There is much talk today about "the glory of God." The church - for the most part - is desiring to see "the glory." And the world is desperately needing to see - "the salvation of God" - as revealed in the face of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet, as we look into the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and examine more closely the preaching of John the Baptist, we realize that there is a price to pay. More specifically, we understand that there is a certain type of preaching that gets the job done. Without it, we will not see the same results as John did.
Both Matthew and Luke alluded to Isaiah's prophecy in depicting the particular calling of the Baptist -
"And this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight" (Matthew 3:3).
"As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places shall be made smooth" (Luke 3:4-5).
The kind of preaching that will bring down the glory is going to have to be the kind that levels the heart by Divine Grace. It's the kind that will bring a hard blow to self-confidence, pride, hypocrisy, and irreligion.
A way has to be made for the coming of the Lord into the heart and life. Jesus just doesn't come to a heart that has not been prepared by His Spirit and Grace. All the "bumpy roads" have to be graded...the "potholes" have to be filled...and the "stones" swept away to make room for the King. In other words, all obstacles must be removed.
"...Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places shall be made smooth."
Jesus doesn't come into a heart that is filled with idols or the "junk" of this world. These things have to be removed - violently removed - to make room for His entrance. All the "crooked" or curved areas have to be made "straight" and the "rough" places made"smooth." In other words, the crooked, perverse, and unjust must give way to the "straight" and plain truth. Simply put - a moral change must take place.
Those who are depressed and bowed down with the guilt of sin along with those who are humble in their own eyes are raised up and comforted. Said another way - the truly repentant are saved and satisfied. Those who are elevated with themselves and their own righteousness are humbled. The proud, haughty, and arrogant - the ones who are elevated with their own abilities...trust in themselves...and look with disdain and contempt on others - are brought down. Those who are prejudiced against the Word and Ways of God or contradict them in thought, word, or deed - who are dishonest or have a crooked spirit - are directed in the right ways and led in the paths of righteousness and truth. Lastly, those who are of a rough and crude temperament are tamed and refined - becoming quiet and peaceable.
There is a certain type of preaching that will make the heart ready for the coming of the Lord. It is not a soft-soaped, mealymouthed type of preaching. On the contrary, it is a straightforward, in-the-face, hard-core, or "raw" truth preaching of repentance that is required. It's the kind of preaching that gives hope to the broken and contrite...humbles the haughty and proud...severely convicts the gainsayers and liars...and melts the cruel and hateful.
For a minute, think about the audience that we are dealing with here. Most Christians want the message to be "soft" and "sweet" - thinking that everyone receiving the Gospel needs their "valley" filled. There are some "mountains" and "hills" that need to be flattened to the ground by the Word of God - before they will ever think to call on Jesus for salvation. There are "game-players" out there who need the "straight" truth in order to get them to stop their game-playing. And there are men who - resembling "lions" and "bears" - need to be apprehended and pierced through with the "Sword of the Spirit."
Now, if you think that this kind of preaching is a little on the "hard" side, read on. You will find John mentioning "the axe laid to the root of the trees" as well as the unproductive trees being cut down and thrown into the fire. This is really strong preaching!
Carefully read his choice of words used in his preaching to the multitudes gathered along the Jordan River -
"And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees; therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."
"Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matthew 3:10 & 12)
Now read Luke's rendition of it -
"And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees; every tree therefore which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire."
"Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and will gather the wheat into His garner; but the chaff He will burn with fire unquenchable" (Luke 3:9 & 17).
Through his preaching, John cleared the orchard - symbolizing God's people - of dead wood - that is, all those who didn't bear the fruits of repentance. He didn't mince his words here. Nor did he offer a moment to spare. He preached that God would cut off every impenitent soul - at once and certainly. If they didn't turn to Him immediately, they would be utterly and finally ruined.
He let the people "have it" - so to speak. You might say that, by his preaching, his calling took on a new name - "hewer of wood." He let the multitudes know that if they didn't show by a holy life that their profession of Christianity was genuine, then they would surely be "cut down" - be destroyed - and spend eternity in a Hot, Hot Hell!
Notice that John wasn't using the "user-friendly" techniques that are so popular today. And he didn't seem to know much about the "seeker-friendly" approach either. He just simply let the people "have it." He gave them the "raw" truth - not holding it back from anyone - considering their gifts, honors, or position.
How many "hewers of wood" do we have in our pulpits today? How many preachers do you know who carry a big "axe"? Or maybe they simply lay it down at the foot of the tree - letting the people know that God is ready to pick it up - on a moment's notice - if He doesn't see a major turnaround in their walk.
Where are the Preachers - both male and female - whose words cut like an "axe" or bring conviction to the unsaved and the lukewarm? Where are those whose words threaten and warn of a future wrath to the disobedient and rebellious?
John didn't stop here. He added one more threatening picture. He presented Jesus - Who to some is a "meek and mild" Jesus - with a winnowing fork or shovel in His hand Who is going from one side of His church to the other sweeping out the disobedient and rebellious and keeping the good, serious, and solid believers. In other words, He is cleaning house. He is getting rid of the light, empty, useless, and spiritually worthless hypocrites and gathering unto Himself all those who are useful and valuable for His kingdom work. Both groups are being tossed around - experiencing seeming confusion and disorder in their lives - but only one group falls at His feet - knowing that He has all the answers to life's dilemmas. That is the "wheat." The "chaff" are those who are tossed to and fro - blown away with the wind - looking to every thrill and deal that comes along their way.
All preaching should have one goal in mind - and that is, that the people should see the "glory" of God or "the salvation of our God." Both Isaiah and John expressed the final outcome that they desired from their preaching or prophesying - "And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (Isaiah 40:5). "And all flesh shall see the salvation of God" (Luke 3:6).
When it's all said and done - preaching should cause people to come face-to-face with the majesty, power, and honor of God. Every obstruction that keeps them from seeing the salvation of God as displayed in Jesus Christ should and must be removed.
This is the only kind of preaching that will bring down the "glory." It's the kind that doesn't hold back the plain Truth - no matter who likes it. It threatens and warns. It puts the fear of God where it belongs - in the hearts of men, women, boys, and girls.
We close with a portion of F.B. Meyer's remarks as quoted above - "Ah, we need that John the Baptist should come with his stern words about the axe, the winnowing fan, and the fire. Nothing less will avail to prepare the way for a new coming of Christ."
Nothing less will bring the Glory down!
Oh! That we may see God's glory!
May God Bless His Word.