This is a portion of a sermon Pastor Streeter preached in 1985. The topic is as current today as it was then. Luke 1:41 tells us that John the Baptist “leaped” in Elisabeth’s womb when Mary visited after Mary had received the news from the angel that she would be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ. What does that tell us about the life of a babe in the womb?
2And spake unto him, saying, Tell us, by what authority doest thou these things? or who is he that gave thee this authority?
3And he answered and said unto them, I will also ask you one thing; and answer me:
4The baptism of John, was it from heaven, or of men?
5And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say, Why then believed ye him not?
6But and if we say, Of men; all the people will stone us: for they be persuaded that John was a prophet.
7And they answered, that they could not tell whence it was.
8And Jesus said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”
The chief priests, scribes, and elders were the foremost authorities in Judaism, and they were “stumped” at Jesus’ question because they dare not say by what authority John the Baptist baptized his converts. The point of Jesus’ question was to show that He did not need the approval of the human “authorities” to carry on His ministry. Jesus is THE authority and His Word is our authority. Our authority for anything that we practice must be the words of God, not a man or a church. If we believe His words, we will do what He says.
Verses 7-9 “7Now Herod the tetrarch heard of all that was done by him: and he was perplexed, because that it was said of some, that John was risen from the dead;
8And of some, that Elias had appeared; and of others, that one of the old prophets was risen again.
9And Herod said, John have I beheaded: but who is this, of whom I hear such things? And he desired to see him.”
Herod had a bad conscience!Â He had beheaded John the Baptist and it had left him shaken.Â Perhaps he suspected that his sins would find him out.Â When he heard about Jesus’ miraculous deeds and powerful words, Herod began to think, “Is it John, risen from the dead?Â Is it Elijah (some people said that he would come back)?Â Maybe it is one of the old dead prophets.”Â Note that every possibility considered by Herod would have involved a resurrection!Â Herod knew that in order for Jesus to do the miraculous things He did, He would have to have resurrection power.Â Jesus did arise from the dead, proving that He is able to do anything.
Verses 31-35 “31And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
32They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
33For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
34The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
35But wisdom is justified of all her children.”
When Jesus uses the word “generation” in this passage, He is referring to the Jewish people.Â But much of what He says about the Jews could also be said about people of all races today.Â He says that they were immature about spiritual things, “like unto children.”Â They were demanding, wanting things their own way.Â They were always dissatisfied, caring not for the ministry of John the Baptist (they didn’t like his food and drink) nor for the ministry of Jesus (though he ate and drank normally).Â John was too reclusive for their taste, and Jesus was too outgoing.Â Human nature has not changed!Â There is a multitude of people who reject God’s salvation and God’s messengers on mere excuses.
And yet, some are wise!Â They may be few, but what they produce proves their wisdom.Â They are serious about heaven, hell, and eternity.Â They are satisfied with Jesus.Â They have not rejected the gospel on mere pretexts.Â “Wisdom is justified of all her children.” May God multiply their number!
25But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously apparelled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.
26But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
27This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
29And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
30But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.”
Jesus defended John the Baptist because some people were likely to think that John was a vacillating and weak man now that he was a “jail bird” and was having doubts about whether Jesus was the messiah.Â Jesus said that it was not so, and He reminded the people of what they saw when they went out into the wilderness to be baptized.Â They had not seen a reed shaking in the wind.Â They had not seen a pantywaist who had been born with a silver spoon in his mouth.Â No, they had seen a real man who lived off the land, one who had been alone with God in the wilderness, the greatest human prophet who had ever lived.Â No one could ever have a greater defender than the Lord Jesus, and He is our defender, our advocate, before the throne of God (I John 2:1).
Jesus then points out some dispensational truth that many find surprising, i.e., during the kingdom age the least and weakest disciple from this Church Age will be greater than John was during his first century ministry.Â This is because John was an Old Testament prophet, and he was limited in time and in the way that the Holy Spirit worked in that old dispensation.Â Our long life in the Millennial Kingdom and the righteous power of Christ perfectly manifested everywhere will make the kingdom age a most fruitful time.Â That time is yet future, awaiting the Second Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.Â The best days are yet ahead of us!
Verses 18-23 “18And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things.
19And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
20When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
21And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
22Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
23And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”
We wonder if John the Baptist was beginning to have doubts.Â He is in prison, put there by Herod, and eventually John would be decapitated for standing true to the Lord.Â When we suffer great trouble in life, that is when we are tempted most to doubt God’s goodness, care, and plans for the future.Â We all have our moments of weakness.Â However, it is also possible that John sent his disciples on this mission for their own benefit, to strengthen their faith, especially in view of what was going to happen to him.Â So John sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if He was the Messiah.
Jesus gave John and John’s disciples the assurance that they needed.Â They saw the miracles of Jesus.Â They learned that Jesus sometimes raised the dead.Â And most important, the poor had the gospel preached unto them, just as Isaiah had predicted (Is 61:1).Â A good way to test the authenticity of a minister is to look at his works and his preaching.Â Are they according to the Bible?Â The Bible says that we know a teacher by his fruit.Â When we investigate Jesus, we are never disappointed.Â He is all that the Bible claims Him to be.
Verses 19-20 “19But Herod the tetrarch, being reproved by him for Herodias his brother Philip’s wife, and for all the evils which Herod had done,
20Added yet this above all, that he shut up John in prison.”
The information about John being shut up in prison is inserted here by Luke to round out the story about The Forerunner, even though his imprisonment did not happen until several years later. Herod was a man of great evils, and his evils were worthy of the great reproof received from John, even though it landed John in prison. John’s imprisonment eventually led to his violent death at Herod’s hand. It should be noted that preachers may be put in prison but the Word of God can not be put in jail nor can it be bound. The Word of God is powerful beyond the ability of any human power to hold it. When the Apostle Paul was put in prison, he wrote,”Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound” (II Tim 2:9).
16John answered, saying unto them all, I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire:
17Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable.”John did and said such amazing things that many began to question whether he was the promised messiah. John assures them that he is not the Christ, and in so doing, he exalts Jesus. All good ministers will exalt Jesus and minimize themselves. As great as John was, he was not worthy to tie Jesus’ shoes. Jesus is far greater than John for two reasons that are mentioned here. First, neither John nor anyone else could baptize as Jesus would. John could baptize with water only, but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Jesus’ baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire refers to the single even that occurred at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit proceeds from Jesus, and was sent by Jesus, to baptize believers into one body. This is a prediction of the beginning of the Church and of the fact that all believers throughout this dispensation of grace would be inseparably and mystically united to Christ.Second, Jesus is greater than John because Jesus has power to bring all men into Judgment (v17). John had no power to gather all of God’s people unto safety nor to send unbelievers to hell, but Jesus has that power. It is a power that He will exercise at His Second Coming. He will separate the saved from the lost, providing an eternal home of bliss for the saved and sending the lost into outer darkness. Hell is described as a place of “unquenchable fire,” which means that the punishment of hell is for ever and for ever (Rev 14:11).
Verses 1-6 “1Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
2Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.
3And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins;
4As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth;
6And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
Luke, as an excellent historian, gives precise and accurate information about the political and religious personalities (all of them exceedingly wicked) who lived when John began to preach. We know from Luke’s description that the year is AD 25 or AD 26. This would make John about 22 years old when he began his ministry. At that time the Word of God came unto John, which means that he was called of God to preach and was given by revelation that which God wanted him to preach. John’s ministry was prophesied in Isaiah 40, which Luke quotes here. The words of Isaiah are somewhat figurative and mean that nothing will be able to stop the ministry of John. All Israel shall hear that Jesus has come and that every person must repent to be saved.
John preached “the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins” (v3). To be baptized one had to have repented and have given evidence thereof. Unless a person repents, his sins will not be forgiven by God. Repentance is changing one’s mind about sin, about Jesus, and about one’s self. It is turning mentally and decisionally away from sin and to Jesus. True repentance from sin and saving faith in Jesus come simultaneously and are never separated from each other. They are “two sides of the same coin,” as has so often been said. There is nothing meritorious about either repentance or faith. Neither of them is a work of man. And it is very important to keep in mind that repentance was not for the Jews only. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).
40And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.
41And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:
42And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
44For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.
45And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.”
Gabriel had told Zacharias that John the Baptist would be filled with the Holy Spirit “even from his mother’s womb” (v 15). There is no evidence that any other child in the history of the world, with the exception of the Lord Jesus, was ever filled with the Holy Spirit in his mother’s womb, or even from the moment of birth. John is a unique and singular case in this regard. We are told that when Elisabeth heard Mary’s greeting John leaped for joy in Elisabeth’s womb and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. Elisabeth then seems to be prophesying, the Holy Spirit giving her the words, when she makes a marvelous pronouncement that Mary was blessed among women, and the fruit of Mary’s womb was to be blessed also. Elisabeth calls Mary “the mother of my Lord,” indicating that God had revealed to her that Mary’s Baby Boy would be the Messiah and Savior. Elisabeth says the Lord will surely bring to pass the promises that He has made to Mary and to her. The entire narrative is an amazingly wonderful part of our Lord’s history.
The way that God refers to John the Baptist and Jesus while they are yet in the womb proves that an unborn child is a human person and that intentionally aborting a child from the womb and killing it is nothing less than the taking of a person’s life. It is the kind of murder that is prohibited in the Ten Commandments i.e., “Thou shalt not kill.”
There is no scriptural justification for extrapolating from the story of John that babies can be converted or that they are able to repent while still in the womb. Some have made that argument as they have tried to justify baptizing babies. But it is a fallacious argument and it defies common sense. Children are able to be regenerated only when they are mature enough to learn and understand that they are sinners, that Jesus is God’s Savior for sinners, and that God forgives those who put their trust in Jesus. There is somewhat of a mystery regarding what happened with John in Elisabeth’s womb. He had joy and he was filled with the Holy Spirit, but beyond that we should not speculate. Whatever happened to John, it happened only to him and not to others.