What do you think of John?

How would you characterize John as a preacher?

I think his scathing address at the beginning of this Sunday’s gospel lesson (“You brood of vipers!” v.7), can easily dominate our thinking of him. He was a man who confronted the religious establishment. He called people to account. He didn’t mince words.

But I wonder if verse 18 should be the verse that, to a greater extent, shapes our thinking about John (“And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them”). In the verses that precede it, we have another example of John’s direct, honest preaching. Jesus is coming. He’s carrying his winnowing fork. And when he’s done clearing his threshing floor, all chaff will be nothing but a heap of ash. That’s a vivid picture of judgment and damnation.

But that metaphor for Christ’s coming and judgment merely serve to introduce what John did to get people ready. Verse 18 is introduced with a “therefore,” i.e. because Jesus is coming in this way, here’s what John did.

He preached the gospel. Not just once. Not just periodically. He preached it over and over again. And not just for a few weeks. Not just long enough to get people through a 14-week Bible Information Class. No, John preached the gospel until he couldn’t preach it any longer.

So John is not only pointing to what precedes to highlight the reason John preached the gospel. He also points to what follows to highlight the duration for which John preached the gospel. John kept preaching the gospel, day after day, over and over again, until Herod threw him in prison.

So Luke’s assessment is clear. Sure John could make his listeners squirm with the best of them. But in the final analysis, he was a preacher of the gospel more than anything else. May the same assessment be made of all of us.

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