In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,…
It was no accident that brought about the conjunction of the mission of John the Baptist with the advent of our Lord. A Divine providence, the purpose of which was declared in an ancient prophecy, connected the two events. The conjunction is shown by that prophecy not to be like one of binary stars. The work of Christ is not associated with that of John. The Baptist is but the forerunner - the pioneer opening up the way for the glorious King.
I. PREPARATION FOR CHRIST IS NEEDED. The Jews were not fit to receive their Messiah; they needed the preliminary work of the prophet of the wilderness to make them rightly susceptible to the new influences of the kingdom. The world will not welcome its Saviour till the way has been made ready for his approach. Individual men and women are far from the kingdom of heaven, and the intervening district is wild and impassable till God makes a providential path across it. The ploughman must precede the sower. It is the work of John the Baptists to break up the fallow ground. Sometimes the messenger comes in the form of a great sorrow. Men are arrested and aroused, made to feel their helplessness and their need. Then, but not till then, they may receive the kingdom.
II. THE METHOD OF PREPARATION MAY BE VERY UNLIKE THE METHOD OF SALVATION. John the Baptist is very different from Jesus Christ. The one is a recluse, the other a brotherly, sociable Man; the one lives in a wild, antique fashion, the other quite simply and naturally; the one speaks in thunder, the other in the still, small voice of sympathy and "sweet reasonableness." Nevertheless, John prepares for Jesus. The furnace that melts out the ore is harsh and fierce, yet it is making the metal ready for the goldsmith to work up into his beautiful design. Most un-Christlike experiences may bring us near to Christ.
III. THE ESSENTIAL PRELIMINARY TO THE RECEPTION OF CHRIST IS REPENTANCE. The burden of the Baptist's message was "Repent!" It is not to be supposed that he only preached the word. He must have laboured to produce the thing; he must have made it his aim to lead his hearers to a deep sense of their sin. Until a man owns his guilt he will not seek pardon. The reason of this is obvious directly it is perceived that salvation is just deliverance from sin; for who would wish for such a salvation while still clinging to his evil habits? To such a person Christ would appear not at all as a deliverer, but rather as an invader, as a robber who came to steal the choice treasures of the heart.
IV. REPENTANCE IS ENCOURAGED BY THE PROMISE OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. That kingdom is near at hand; therefore the Baptist urges his hearers to lose no time in making themselves ready for it. The vision of the better life reveals the shame and horror of the life of sin. If there were no hope there would be no repentance; in such a state the awakened conscience could only plunge the soul into remorse - which is hell. Therefore the message of the Baptist must be twofold. It is not right or wise to preach of sin by itself, nor to try to induce repentance chiefly by painting the guilt of the past in the blackest colours. The anticipation of Christ is the best inducement to repentance. - W.F.A.
Parallel VersesKJV: In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,