We’ve all known some “tough guys” in our lives, right? We may have seen them at school or on the job. We’ve certainly seen them on television or in the movies. We may have seen them in our neighborhoods and maybe even in our own homes. Although the exact definition of a “tough guy” can change from person to person, a tough guy is usually recognized for having certain qualities like strength, intensity, and a commitment to do what they believe is right, regardless of what others might say or think.
While there are a number of Biblical men and women who could fit into this category, The Doctor believes that one man stands alone as the toughest of the Biblical tough guys. That man is John the Baptist.
According to the gospel of Luke, John’s parents were named Elizabeth and Zechariah. Zechariah served as a priest and as he was attending to his duties at the Temple one day, an angel announced to him that his wife would have a child- a baby boy.
Zechariah was told that his son would be filled with the Holy Spirit and that his name was to be John. In addition, he was also told that John would one day go “before the LORD in the spirit and power of Elijah (the Old Testament prophet)… to make ready a people prepared for the LORD” (see Luke 1:1-25 for the complete story).
So John was truly “a man on a mission” even from his birth. And just as the angel had said, John’s future pattern for ministry was the Old Testament prophet Elijah. You see, the people of John’s day expected “Elijah” to appear before the arrival of God’s Savior as was predicted by the prophet Malachi (Malachi 4:5) and later reconfirmed by Jesus Himself (Matthew 17:10-13).
So what was the connection between John and Elijah? Well, there were a couple of things…
- Elijah’s ministry was built on loyalty to God and the bold proclamation of His Word (1 Kings 18: 21-40) and so was John’s
- Elijah’s street clothes included a camel’s hair jacket and a leather belt (2 Kings 1:8) and so were John’s
- Elijah challenged some of the most important and influential people of his day (1 Kings 21:17-24) and so did John
So John was the advance man who was to go before the Messiah when He appeared- he was the “Elijah” that the people had been waiting for.
As a speaker, John didn’t have a real flashy message. For example, John didn’t go around telling people how to they could get rich. He didn’t go around telling people how God would take away all their problems. He didn’t go around telling people that God would give them a happy and carefree life. We’re told in the Bible that John simply went from place to place around the Jordan River area and told people to repent (or “turn back”) from their sins and be baptized…
“Here is a sample of John’s preaching to the crowds that came for baptism: ‘You brood of snakes! You are trying to escape hell without truly turning to God! That is why you want to be baptized! First go and prove by the way you live that that you really have repented. And don’t think that you are safe because you are descendants of Abraham. That isn’t enough. God can produce children of Abraham from these desert stones! The axe of his judgment is poised over you, ready to sever your roots and cut you down. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire'” (Luke 3:7-9).
Although calling people “a brood of snakes” probably didn’t earn John many points in charm school, it does illustrate a little of what he was all about.
You see, John wasn’t some slick “public relations” advance man for Jesus- John told it like it was and he didn’t pull any punches. John was the kind of guy who was the same with everyone- no nonsense and no compromise.
Now, some might feel that John was a little harsh with those he preached to. After all, it seems pretty unkind for someone to stand up and call their listeners a bunch of snakes, doesn’t it? But before we come down too hard on John, let’s consider that he may have been speaking to people who were living under the false impression that they were close to God when they really weren’t -people who may have been a little too soft, a little too unconcerned and a little too self-satisfied in their relationship with God.
It seems that John realized that there are times when the most loving thing you can do for someone is to tell them the truth in no uncertain terms. Sometimes a dose of cold, hard reality (like the kind delivered by John) is the only thing that will save some people from really serious trouble.
In any event, John’s message was the right thing at the right time and his audiences responded…
“The crowd replied, ‘What do you want us to do?’ ‘If you have two coats,’ he replied, ‘give one to the poor. If you have extra food, give it away to those who are hungry.’
Even tax collectors -notorious for their corruption- came to be baptized and asked, ‘How shall we prove to you that we abandoned our sins?’ ‘By your honesty,’ he replied. ‘Make sure you collect no more taxes than the Roman government requires you do.’
‘And us,’ asked some soldiers, ‘what about us?’ John replied, ‘Don’t extort money by threats and violence; don’t accuse anyone of what you know he didn’t do; and be content with your pay!'” (Luke 3:10-14).
So John simply told his listeners to conduct themselves in a manner that honored God. Of course, this advice is just as good today as was in John’s day, for people are always more impressed with what we do rather than simply what we say.