2-1-2-1-The Learning Church


Read Matthew 3:1-12

Almost 30 years had passed since the events of Chapter 2.  Here John the Baptist burst onto the scene.  His theme was “Repent!”  Repentance means doing an about-face a -180-degree turn-from the kind of self-centeredness; that leads to wrong actions such as lying, cheating, stealing, gossiping, taking revenge, abusing, and indulging in sexual immorality.  A person who repents stops rebelling and begins following God’s way of living prescribed in his Word.  The first step in turning to God is to admit your sin, as John urged.  Then God will receive you and help you live the way he wants.  Remember that only God can get rid of sin.  He doesn’t expect us to cleanup our lives before we come to him.

The kingdom of heaven began when God himself entered human history as a man.  Today Jesus Christ reigns in the hearts of believers, but the kingdom of heaven will not be fully realized until all evil in the world is judged and removed.  Christ came to earth fist as a suffering servant, he will come again as king and judge to rule victoriously over all the earth.

The prophet quoted is Isaiah (40:3) one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and one of the most quoted in the New Testament.  Like Isaiah John was a prophet who urged the people to confess their sins and live for God.  Both prophets taught that the message of repentance is good news to those who listen and seek the healing forgiveness of God’s love, but terrible news to those who refuse to listen and thus cut off their only hope.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.  People who do not know Jesus need to be prepared to meet him.  We can prepare them be explaining their need for forgiveness, demonstrating Christ’s teachings by our conduct, and telling them how Christ can give their lives meaning.  We can “make straight paths for him” by correcting misconceptions that might be hindering people from approaching Christ.  Someone you know may be open to a relationship with Christ.  What can you do to prepare the way for this person?

John was markedly different from other religious leaders of his day.  While many were greedy, selfish, and preoccupied with winning the praise of the people.  John was concerned only with the praise of God.  Having separated himself from the evil and hypocrisy of his day.  John lived differently from the other people to show that his message was new.  John not only preached God’s law, he lived it.  Do you practice what you preach?  Could people discover what you believe by observing the way you live.

John must have presented as strange image!  Many people came to hear this preacher who wore odd clothes and ate unusual food.  Some probably came simply out of curiosity and ended up repenting of their sins as they listened to his powerful message.  People may be curious about your Christian life-style and values.  You can use their simple curiosity as an opener to share how Christ makes a difference in you.

Matthew’s Gospel heralds the Kingdom.  We are allowed to see and listen to the forerunner, whose voice again awoke the hearts of men with prophetic utterance after a silence of 400 years.  he leap’s into the arena with the suddenness of Elijah.

His message was twofold-the need for repentance and the announcement of the nearness of the kingdom.  It thrilled his generation with a strange wonder and interest.  All of the southern part of the country seemed to empty itself into the Jordan valley.  Yes, if a man is not a reed shaken by the wind, not a copy but an original who speaks what he sees and knows of God, men will come to him in every age.

To us also John the Baptist must come if we shall properly appreciate the Redeemer.  We must expose ourselves to the fire, the ax, the winnowing fan, that we may learn what we really are, and come, like Paul, to reckon our own righteousness as loss if only we may win Christ and be found in him.

Why did John attract so many people?  He was the first true prophet in 400 years.  He blasted both Herod and the religious leaders, daring acts that fascinated the common people.  But John also had strong words for his audience-they too were sinners and needed to repent.  His message was powerful and true.  The people were expecting a prophet like Elijah (Malachi 4:5, Luke 1:17) and John seemed to be the one.

When you wash dirty hands the results are immediately visible.  But repentance happens inside with a cleansing that isn’t seem right away.  So John used a baptism to initiate converts, so John’s audience was familiar with the rite.  Here, baptism was used as a sign of repentance and forgiveness.  Repent means “to turn” implying a change in behavior, It is turning from sin toward God.  Have you repented of sin in your life?  Can others see the difference it makes in you?  A changed life with new and different behavior makes your repentance real and visible.

The Jordan River is about 70 miles long, it’s main section stretching between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  Jerusalem lies about 20 miles west of the Jordan.  This river was Israel’s eastern border and many significant events in the nation’s history took place there.  It was by the Jordan River that the Israelites renewed their covenant with God before entering the promised land (Joshua 1:2).  here John the Baptist calls them to renew their covenant with God again, this time through baptism.

The Jewish religious leaders were divided into several groups.  Two of the most prominent groups were the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  The Pharisees separated themselves from anything non -Jewish and carefully followed both the Old Testament laws and the oral traditions handed down through the centuries.  The Sadducees believed the Pentateuch  alone (Genesis-Deuteronomy) to be God’s Word.  They were descended mainly from  priestly nobility, while the Pharisees came from all classes of people.  The two groups disliked each other greatly, and both opposed Jesus.  John the Baptist criticized the Pharisees for being legalistic and hypocritical, following the letter of the law while ignoring it’s true intent.  He criticized the Sadducees for using religion to advance their political position.

John the Baptist called people to more than words or ritual he told them to change their behavior.  “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” means that God looks beyond our words and religious activities to see if our conduct backs up what we say, and he judges our words by the actions that accompany them.  Do your actions match your words?

Just as a fruit tree is expected to bear fruit, God’s people should produce a crop of Good deeds.  God has no use for people who call themselves Christians but do nothing about it.  Like many people in John’s day who were God’s people in name only, we are of no value if we are Christians in name only.  It others cant see our faith in the way we treat them, we may not be God’s people at all.

God’s message hasn’t changed since the Old Testament-people will be judged for their unproductive lives.  God calls us to be active in our obedience.  John compared people who claim they believe God but don’t live for God, we must obey his teachings, resist temptation, actively serve and help others, and share our faith.  How productive are you for God?

John baptised people as a sign that they had asked God to forgive their sins and had decided to live as he wanted them to live.  Baptism was an outward sign of commitment.  To be effective, it had to be accompanied by an inward change of attitude leading to a changed life-the work of the Holy Spirit.  John said that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.  This looked ahead to Pentecost (Acts 2), when the Holy Spirit would be sent by Jesus in the form of tongues of fire, empowering his followers to preach the gospel, John’s statement also symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing God’s judgment on those who refuse to repent.  Everyone will one day be baptized-either now by God’s Holy Spirit, or later by the fire of his judgment.

A winnowing fork is a pitchfork used to toss wheat in the ait to separate wheat from chaff.  The wheat is the part of the plant that is useful, chaff is the worthless outer shell.  Because it is useless, chaff is burned, wheat, however, is gathered.  “Winnowing” is often used a picture of God’s judgment.  On repentant people will be judged and discarded because they are worthless in doing God’s work, those who repent and believe will be saved and used by God.

Two major religious groups existed in Israel at the time of Jesus.  The Pharisees were more religiously minded, while the Sadducees were more politically minded.  These groups were united in their hatred of Jesus.  True repentance prepares the way for Jesus in our lives.

Then there was what John the Baptist said – that he had come to prepare the way for the Lord.  And everyone got excited.  They knew their prophecies, and were watching out for God to come and visit and redeem his people.  Then Jesus suddenly appears on the scene.  And John seems to have known something about Jesus – something that made him hesitate before baptizing him.  That seems significant.  It was as if he knew that Jesus didn’t NEED to be baptized.  It was as if he had no sin to be washed away.  If anybody needed to baptize anyone else, it was John who needed to be baptized by Jesus….

What seemed ridiculous if Jesus was just a man makes perfect sense if he really was God…. Jesus conveyed the impression that he had the authority to act and speak as God.  It is almost as if he anticipated the verdict of the resurrection – that he was authorized to speak and act in this way.  And didn’t people say that he taught with authority?

Suppose it were true…. If Jesus is God, it means we have a revelation of God which goes far beyond anything and everything we have ever had in the past….

It means that the great gulf between God and ourselves has been bridged….

And it would mean that any idea of God as some distant and remote figure would have to go.

(From What Was God Doing on the Cross? by Alister E. McGrath)

Have you followed this example of Jesus through baptism?  Give it prayerful consideration.

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'” (Matthew 3:1-2)

The angel Gabriel announced John the Baptist would be the Elijah that Malachi promised, the one God sent to prepare people’s hearts to receive Messiah (Matthew 3:1-17). John the Baptist did just that, preaching “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” John spoke of the One who would judge between the righteous and the wicked, and warned Abraham’s children not to rely upon their lineage for salvation, but upon God’s promise. No one would be found righteous except those who were redeemed by Messiah.

John’s message of repentance is not just for those who do not yet know the Messiah. It is also for us who already know Christ. John the Baptist’s call to repentance reminds us that daily we renew God’s promise by confessing our sinfulness, remembering God’s promise to forgive, and being prepared again to do His work on earth.

As we Wait: Mark your Baptism day on the calendar and make plans to especially celebrate God’s faithfulness to you on that day. Do the same for your family.

Thank You, Lord, for blessing me, forgiving my sins, and preparing me for Your good works.

Who has been “John the Baptist” in your life?  How did he or she prepare you to meet Jesus?

Who are today’s “Pharisees and Sadducees”?

How is repentance linked to your experience of salvation: In the past?  Now?

How has God affirmed you as his child in Christ?

How do John’s and Jesus’ ministries compare?

What do the images of judgment mean: The coming wrath?  The ax?  The fire?  His winnowing fork?

What angered John so much about the Pharisee and Saducees?

How would you paraphrase John’s message (v.2) for people today?  What is the “Kingdom of heaven”?

What was John the Baptist like?  Why would anyone go out of their way to hear this radical preacher (v.7)?  Who did they think he was (see 2 Ki 1:8)?

Read Luke 3:1-18

Tiberius, the Roman emperor, ruled from A.D. 14 to 37.  Pilate was the Roman governor responsible for the province of Judea.  Herod (Antipas) and Philip were half brothers and sons of the cruel Herod the Great, who had been dead more than 20 years,  Antipas, Philip, Pilate, and Lysanias apparently had equal powers in governing their separate territories.  All were subject to Rome and responsible for keeping peace in their respective lands.

Under the Jewish law there was only one high priest.  he was appointed from Arron’s line, and he held his position for life.  By this time, however, the religious system had been corrupted, and the Roman government was appointing it’s own religious leader to maintain greater control over the Jews.  Apparently the Roman authorities had deposed the Jewish-appointed Annas and had replaced him with Annas’s son-in-law, Caiaphas.  Nevertheless, Annas retained his title (see Acts 4:6) and probably also much of the power it carried.  Because the Jews believed the high priests position to be for life, they would have continued to call Annas their High Priest.

Pilate, Herod, and Caiaphas were the most powerful leaders in Palestine, but they were upstaged by a desert prophet from rural Judea.  God chose to speak through the loner John the Baptist, who had gone down in history as greater than any of the rulers of his day.  How often we judge people by our cultural standards-power, wealth, beauty-and miss the truly great people through whom God works!  Greatness is not measured by what you have, by your faith in God.  Like John, give yourself entirely to God so God’s power can work through you.

Repentance has two sides-turning away from sins and turning toward God.  To be truly repentant, we must do both.  We can’t just say we believe and then live any way we choose (see 3:7-8), and neither can we simply live a morally correct life without a personal relationship with God, because that cannot bring forgiveness from sin.  Determine to rid your life of any sins God points out, and put your trust in him alone to guide you.

In John’s day, before a king took a trip, messengers would tell those he was planning to visit to prepare the roads for him.  Similarly John told his listeners to make their lives ready so the Lord could come to them.  To prepare for Jesus’ coming to us, we must focus on him, listen to his words, and respond to his directions.

This book was written to a non-Jewish audience.  Luke quoted from Isaiah to show that salvation is for all people, not just the Jews (Isaiah 40: 3-5, 52-60).  John the Baptist called all mankind to prepare to meet Jesus.  That includes you, no mater what your standing is with religious organizations and authorities.  Don’t let feelings of being an outsider cause you to hold back.  No one who wants to follow Jesus is an outsider in God’s Kingdom.

What motivates your faith-fear-of the future, or a desire to be a better person in a better world?  Some people wanted to be baptized by John so they could escape eternal punishment, but they didn’t turn to God for salvation.  John had harsh words for such people.  He knew that God values reformation above ritual.  Is your faith motivated by a desire for a new, changed life, or is it only a insurance policy against possible disaster?

Many of John’s hearers were shocked when he said that being Abraham’s descendants was not enough for God.  The religious leaders relied more on their family lines than on their faith for their standing with God.  For them, religion was inherited.  But a personal relationship with God is not handed down from parents to children.  Everyone has to commit to it on his or her own.  Don’t rely on someone else’s faith for your salvation.  Put your own faith in Jesus, and then exercise it every day.

Confession of sins and a changed life are inseparable.  Faith without deeds is dead (James 2:14-26).  Jesus harshest words were to the respectable religious leaders who lacked the desire for real change.  They wanted to be known as religious authorities, but they didn’t want to change their hearts and minds.  Thus their lives were unproductive.  Repentance must be tied to action, or it isn’t real.  Following Jesus means more than saying the right words, it means acting on what he says.

John’s message demanded at least three specific responses (1) share what you have with those who need it (2) whatever your job is do it well and with fairness, and (3) be content with what your earning.  John had no time to address comforting messages to those who lived careless or selfish lives-he was calling the people to right living.  What changes can you make in sharing what you have, doing your work honestly and well, and being content?

Tax collectors were notorious for their dishonesty.  Romans gathered funds for their government by farming out the collection privilege.  Tax collectors earned their own living by adding a sizable sum-whatever they could get away with-to the total and keeping this money for themselves.  Unless the people revolted and risked Roman retaliation, they had to pay whatever was demanded.  Obviously they hated the tax collectors, who were generally dishonest, greedy, and ready to betray their own countryman for cold cash.  Yet, said John, God would accept even these men.  God desires to pour out mercy on those who confess and then to give strength to live changed lives.

John’s message took root in unexpected places-among the poor, the dishonest, and even the hated occupation army.  These people were painfully aware of their needs.  Too often we confuse respectability with right living.  They are not the same.  Respectability can even hinder right living if it keeps us from seeing our need for God.  It you had to choose, would you protect your character or your reputation.

These soldiers were the Roman troops sent to keep peace in this distant province.  Many of them oppressed the poor and used their power to take advantage of all the people.  John called them to repent and change their ways.

There had not been a prophet in Israel for more than 400 years.  It was widely believed that when the Messiah came prophecy would reappear (Joel 2:28, 29; Malachi 3:1; 4:5).  When John burst on to the scene, the people were excited.  He was obviously a great prophet, and they were sure that the eagerly awaited age of the Messiah had come.  Some in fact, though John himself was the Messiah.  John spoke like the prophets of old, saying that the people must turn from their sin to avoid punishment and turn to God to experience his mercy and approval.  This is a message for all times and places, but John spoke it with particular urgency-he was preparing the people for the coming Messiah.

John’s baptism with water symbolized the washing away of sins.  His baptism coordinated with his message of repentance and reformation.  Jesus’ baptism with fire includes the power needed to do God’s will.  The baptism with the Holy Spirit was fulfilled at Pentecost (Acts 2) when the Holy Spirit came upon believers in the form of tongues of fire empowering them to proclaim Jesus resurrection in many languages.  The baptism with fire also symbolizes the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing God’s judgment on those who refuse to repent.

John warned of impending judgment by comparing those who refuse to live for God to chaff, the useless outer-husk of the grain.  By contrast, he compared those who repent and reform their lives to the nourishing wheat itself.  The winnowing fork was a pitchfork used to toss wheat so that the kernels would separate from the blades.  Those who refuse to be used by God will be discarded because they have no value in furthering God’s work.  Those who repent and believe, however, hold great value in God’s eyes because they are beginning a new life of productive service for him.

The evangelist sets an emperor, a governor, two high priest, and three tetrarchs in a few lines, as of very subordinate interest compared with the one many, the child of the desert, whose coming dated a new era.  After all, it is religious men who really make the history of mankind.

The word of God came unto John the Baptist… “and became.”  That is the true order.  Get your message and them come.  It is often in the wilderness of life that God’s words find us.  The man who is going to master men must first master the appetites of his own body.  If you seek popularity, you will lose it; if you seek to do God’s will, men will almost certainly come to find you.  Souls require a clear pane of glass when they lock on the infinite expanse of the sky!  Be real.  Touch eternal truth for yourself.  Fear not the face of man!

John was a humble man who submitted to God.  Not concerned with his own popularity, he knew that his ministry was to point people to Jesus Christ.

John the Baptizer is a powerful example of a called man…. John seems to have had from the very beginning of a vivid sense of destiny, the result of a heavenly assignment that came from ddp inside himself….

To those who questioned him regarding his feelings about the growing popularity of the man from Nazareth, he likened his purpose to that of the best man at a wedding: “He who has the bride is the Bridegroom; but the friend [that’s John] of the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29).  The purpose of the best man is simply to stand with the groom, to make sure that all attention is riveted upon him.  The best man would be a fool if in the middle of the wedding processional he suddenly turned to the wedding guests and began to sing a song or engage in a humorous monologue.  The best man has fulfilled his purpose most admirably when he draws no attention to  himself but focuses all attention upon the bride and groom.

And that is what John did.  If Jesus Christ was the groom, to use John’s metaphor, then the Baptizer was committed to being the best man and nothing else.  That was the purpose that flowed from his call, and he had no desire to aspire to anything beyond.  Thus to see the crowd headed toward Christ was all the affirmation John needed; his purpose had been fulfilled.

(From Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald)

Like John, Believers should point people to Jesus Christ.  Who are the people God is placing on your heart to pray for, to witness to, and to help.

Who have been “John the Baptist” in your life-people who have shown you the way, led you to Christ, encouraged you, and given you a kick in the pants.

What would John say you could do specifically to show Christian love and repentance?

What one action will you take this week to “produce fruit in keeping with your repentance”?

How much time passes between appearances of John the Baptist here and in 1:80?  What do you suppose John was doing in those intervening years?  Why?

Why does Luke list all the political and religious figures in verses 1-2?

How would you describe John’s message and style?

What radical about John’s message?  What does the “foot” and fruit signify?  Is he advocating social upheaval?  Or inner transformation?  Is he “preaching” or “meddling”?  Why?  Why would anyone go out of their way to hear such a preacher?

How does John’s message to the people (vv. 7-14) illustrate the kind of repentance he is calling for?  What does John say about the need for and outcome of repentance?

Why is John confused with Christ (v. 15; Jn 1:19-28)?  By contrast how does John differentiate himself and his ministry?  What does the “wheat” and chaff” signify?

What is the beginning of the end for John’s ministry (vv. 19-20)?  What does this illustrate about John?

The Learning Church

The learning capacity of the laity is the greatest single human resource of the church.  The ratio of laity to clergy is approximately 300 to 1.  This fact alone suggests the vast potential given to the people of God, to say nothing of the imagination, insights, and experience of the laity.

Lay Accountability

The church will face no greater question than this:  To whom and for what is the laity accountable?  As we have moved in the direction of more visible clergy accountability, the church must likewise be laying the keel for launching an ethos of expectation for lay leadership.

How can church members become participants in responsible adult learning,  especially our lay leaders who have responsible adult learning, especially our lay leaders who have responsibilities on boards, committees, and work areas?  Why should we expect clergy leaders to be involved in lifelong learning unless we also expect proportionate learning from the church’s lay leaders?  While to be sure a great deal of learning takes place beyond formal designs of education, why should we expect the latter from clerical leaders and not from lay leaders?

The future faithfulness of the church to the gospel of Jesus Christ is inevitably connected with the question of lay learning and accountability.  Unless there is an imaginative and effective program of lay learning across the church, the consequences are usually predictable: we inevitably drift toward popular cultural assumptions; we become adjusted, acculturated, and adapted to a domesticated religion of benign spirituality; we lose the Divine Discontent of Christian thought and action.  The constant “messages” of the society around us anesthetize us to the needs of a suffering world and the gospel is remade in our own image.  In short, we lose the wonder, the challenge, the power of the gospel that calls us to be transformed to Jesus Christ, not conformed to the world.  Without lay learning on a vast scale, so called lay ennablement will in actuality result in an erosion of historical and theological vision, a disablement of the power and authority of the Word in the Body of Christ.

Years ago James D. Smart wrote a book called The Rebirth of Ministry.  In a chapter entitled, “The Teaching Ministry.he eloquently described the connection between a teaching ministry and an active discipleship, as well as the consequences of an untrained laity:

The weakness of the church at many crucial points arises directly from this failure of members of the church to become disciples of Jesus Christ.  It causes a tragic shortage of competent lay leaders because so few mature adults have any thorough education in the faith to which they are earnestly committed.  Their Christian education ceased in their teens.  They have read little or nothing about their faith (Although the sale of religious novels and religious books that are like spiritual get-rich-quick manuals is sometimes large, books that would be useful for growth in real discipleship have a pitifully small sale…)  The consequence often is that men become lay  leaders in the church not because of any unusual development or competence or understanding of a peculiarly Christian nature but because of their engaging personal qualities.  They have the character of a leader, but not the knowledge or understanding or penetrating Christian judgement that are necessary to empower them for Quality of Life.

If clergy want an educated laity, we need to be willing to teach, to share, to become mutual learners.  We need to plan for the learning process with laypersons so that mutual growth can take place for the benefits of the church.  As a layperson, are you willing to risk new learning and are you willing to work at loving God with your mind?

The church has a right to expect the training of all lay leaders in basic biblical interpretation, theological reflection, and the ministry of all Christians.  It is not the expectation of learning that is unreasonable or too demanding.  Rather it is the expectation that a high standard of lay leadership is possible when no training occurs in the basic areas of the church’s life and faith for which leadership is expected.

Fear of Learning

It’s O.K. to feel foolish and embarrassed in the service of attempted new learning.  And this is terribly important adults to discover because the fear of feeling or appearing foolish-or stupid-is one  of the great deterrents to adult education.  If our selfhood is rooted in Jesus Christ, we don’t have to impress others or worry about “getting it all together.” [God] “is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts boast of the Lord'” (1 Cor. 1:30-31).

When Jesus Christ is our center-of-being, our animating principle and person, we are freed to learn, to risk, to discover anew, and to feel foolish in the process if need be.  When Jesus Christ is the final Word for our lives rather than our own ego, learning assumes a joyful and anticipating face instead of a fearful or anxious one.  To love God with all of our mind is, in the strength of Jesus Christ, to welcome new facets of our Christian tradition.

While there is an always present fear of learning, there is also planted in the human heart and mind a thirst and hunger for learning.  It is the church’s task to turn this questing spirit into the joy of learning.  And the joy of learning into the hallowing of life.

Directions, Dreams, and Designs for a Learned Laity

Similarly lay leaders who assume key responsibilities for a year or more should be expected to commit themselves to a structured learning process.  The should see themselves and be seen by others in the church as accountable for serious adult formation in biblical literacy as a minimum, and hopefully in church history, a theology of worship, and the mission of the church  Lay leaders would be regarded by their congregations and by the church-at-large as accountable to the governing body of the congregation and to the ecclesiastical structure to which the ordained minister is immediately accountable.  To create and develop an ethos of expectations will take years and will need constant building up and renewing, just as with  the continuing education of ordained ministers.

We need at least as “high” a view of the general ministers of the church as we do of the ordained ministers.  The first disciples were a learning church.  Today’s faith seekers are accountable to God and the church for an intentional learning in the service of the world.


  1. What are the most important insights and values that you have learned in the Body of Christ?

  2. What structured learning opportunities are available to you in the church and how can you envision a strengthening of these possibilities?

  3. Does a theology of accountability for lay leaders have a place in the church?  How do you see this taking place, either in actuality or in dreaming for the future?


[tr,01,03,f48]<Samuel Porter Jones{SCT}<BORN: October 16, 1847
Oak Bowery, Alabama
DIED: October 15, 1906
Perry, Arkansas
LIFE SPAN: 58 years, 11 months, 29 days
{SCT}<HE HAD MANY TITLES, “Sam Jones, lawyer,” “Sam Jones, the
drunkard,” but the one most prized was “Sam Jones, the
evangelist.” And, evangelist he was, with some 500,000 decisions
made out of estimated audiences of 25,000,000.
His father, John J. Jones, felt the urge to follow four
other brothers into the Methodist ministry but decided that he
could make a more secure living as a lawyer and businessman. His
mother, Nancy, died in 1856 saying to her nine-year-old son,
“Sam, I will never be able to return to you, but you can come to
me.” He was greatly touched and never forgot her dying words. For
three years he, and his two brothers and sister, lived with their
pious grandparents, with his godly grandmother exerting more
influence on his life than any other member of his family. When
Sam’s father remarried and settled in Cartersville, Georgia, the
children relocated there in 1858. Sam’s father set up law
practice and was a man of outstanding reputation as a Christian.
The Civil War broke out and the father became a captain in the
Confederate army.
As a schoolboy, Sam was clever at reciting pieces in class.
His formal education came through private tutors and boarding
When the Union armies marched through Georgia, the family
was separated and, in January 1864, young Sam Jones was swept
into Kentucky. There he met Laura McElwain of Eminence, whom he
later married.
Returning to Cartersville, he concluded his education,
graduating from Euharle High School in June, 1867. At the
graduating ceremony, he delivered the valedictory address
reflecting the outlook of his generation which came of age in the
ashes of the Southern Confederacy.
His father intended to give him a college education, but
Sam’s health broke down. Having nervous dyspepsia, he decided to
study law at home. Thinking that alcohol would help his “nervous
stomach,” he soon became a regular alcoholic.
Nevertheless, Sam showed great promise of success in legal
endeavors. He was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1868 after only
one year of legal study. He married one month later on November
24, 1868. When he was sober, Sam tried cases as a brilliant
lawyer; when drunk, he was worthless as an attorney and as a
husband. Gambling also helped bring him to the brink of ruin.
During this time he moved to Texas, to Alabama, and finally
back to Cartersville. By 1872, the only job he was able to get
was that of a furnace stoker in a factory near Cartersville where
he shovelled coal for twelve hours a day. The pleas of his wife
and the births of two children did not change him. A daughter,
Beulah, was born October 31, 1869, but died in August of 1871.
Mary was born in September of 1871. Other children born to the
Joneses were Annie (May 11, 1873), Sam Paul (May 31, 1875),
Robert (Dec. 24, 1876), Laura (October of 1881), and finally
Julia (April of 1885).
In August, 1872, there was a dramatic change. News came
while he was on a six-week drinking binge that his father was
seriously ill. On his deathbed, his father’s words pierced the
heart of young Sam. “My poor, wicked, wayward, reckless boy. You
have broken the heart of your sweet wife and brought me down in
sorrow to my grave. Promise me, my boy, to meet me in Heaven.”
Overcome with emotion, Sam fell to his knees and took his dying
father’s hand, and shouted “I promise, I’ll quit drinking and set
things straight. I’ll meet you and mother in heaven.” The father
died and Sam kept his vow. He tells about his last encounter with

{BQT} I went to the bar and begged for a glass of liquor. I
got the glass and started to drink and looked into the mirror. I
saw my hair matted, the filth and vomit on my clothes, one of my
eyes totally closed, and my lips swollen. And I said, “Is that
all that is left of the proud and brilliant lawyer, Sam Jones?” I
smashed the glass on the floor and fell to my knees and cried,
“Oh God! Oh God, have mercy!” The bartender ran to my side and
thought I was dying…and I was. I said, “Just let me alone.” I
picked myself up and staggered to my cheap rooming house and said
to the ladies running it, “Would you do me a favor?” They
answered in the affirmative. I asked them to bring me a pot of
black coffee. I went through three days and nights of hell, but
when the morning came, something had happened to old Sam Jones. I
went down to the clothing store and said, “I want you to give me
a new suit. I got saved last night. Sam Jones is coming back.”
Not only did I get a suit, but shirts, ties, coat, everything I
needed and as I left, the merchant stuck a $100 bill into my
hand. I went to the barber for I had not had a shave in over a
month. I asked for a bath, a shave, a haircut. I put on my new
clothes, looking pale and weak. I left to go to my wife whom I
had beaten till she was black and blue. She didn’t even recognize
her own husband. I said, “Honey, God has given you a new husband
and the children a new daddy, and I wonder if you will forgive me
and start all over again.” She grabbed me in her arms and cried,
“Hallelujah! Hallelujah! I have been praying for this!” And I
have been going round the country bragging about Jesus ever

{EQT} Sam was twenty-four years old. A week later in the
agony of keeping his vow, he walked down the aisle of the little
country church where his grandfather, Samuel G. Jones, was
preaching and said, “Grandfather, I take this step today. I give
myself, my heart, and life, what is left of it, all to God and
His cause.” He felt an immediate call to the ministry. A week
after his conversion, Sam preached his first sermon in his
grandfather’s pulpit. In November, 1872, he was licensed as an
itinerant preacher for the North Georgia Conference of the
Methodist Episcopal Church, South. He was called “the Mountain
Evangelist” in his early days, perhaps because he “put the fodder
down low where the poor folks can reach it.”
The North Georgia Conference assigned Jones to a rural
circuit which had five churches scattered in four different
counties. This was the Van Wert Circuit, one of the poorest in
Georgia. He was soon being asked by nearby pastors to help them
with their annual revivals. Because of his growing fame, he was
shifted from one circuit to another. By 1880, he was spending
only 50% of his time preaching in his own circuit. The other half
of the time he was conducting revivals for other pastors in
nearby towns.
In December, 1880, the Conference decided to free him from
the restraints of pastoral responsibilities and made him the
fund-raising agent for the Methodist Orphan Home in Decatur,
Georgia. The orphanage had a debt of $20,000 and Jones was
encouraged to go anywhere he felt he could raise money for the
institution. Starting in small towns, he was soon in the big
churches of the State. He preached and took offerings for the
orphanage. Sam was also given permission to hold revival meetings
for Methodist ministers and even help in “union meetings” if a
Methodist church was among the denominations that sponsored him.
His fame spread beyond his State. In 1883, he conducted a two-
week series of meetings for the Methodist churches of Louisville,
Kentucky, which received some attention from the secular press.
At a meeting for men only in the local Masonic Temple, he
delivered a blistering attack on such sins as profanity, Sabbath
breaking, gambling, licentiousness and intemperance.
By 1884, Sam Jones, as an evangelist, was well established.
It was this year he first attempted a large-scale, city-wide
revival in Memphis, Tennessee. Thirteen pastors of five different
denominations united to sponsor him. Jones estimated 1,000
decisions for Christ here including 400 public professions of
faith and 100 joining the churches by the end of the meetings.
Later, a crusade was held in Chattanooga, Tennessee with another
1,000 decisions for Christ. He was invited to Jackson and
Knoxville, Tennessee; to Waco, Texas; and to T. DeWitt Talmage’s
tabernacle in Brooklyn in January, 1885. This crusade was a great
success and now the largest cities of both the South and the
North were seeking his services.
A campaign that really pushed Jones to the top of his
profession, second only to Moody during these days, was the 1885
Nashville, Tennessee, meeting. In a city of 50,000, the
ministerial association invited him to erect a tent for 5,000 and
preach. People packed it three times a day for four weeks, while
the evangelist berated them, amused them, and compelled them to
come forward pledging their lives to Christ. The meeting opened
in May and before it was over a month later, some claimed that
10,000 were converted. This was his largest crusade. He made such
an impression that he was invited to address the State
Legislature. He told the legislators about the evils of the
liquor traffic and also offered them some suggestions on how to
reform the prison system. Other 1885 crusades were: St. Joseph,
Missouri (2,220 converts); Birmingham, Alabama (1,800 converts);
St. Louis, Missouri (1,600 converts). In St. Louis, he came with
an invitation from just one pastor, but others soon cooperated
once he got there. There was a real revival. The St. Louis Globe
carried his sermons, sometimes six columns of them!
In 1886, Sam Jones was in Cincinnati, Ohio (2,000 converts);
Chicago, Illinois (1,500 to 3,000 converts). In Chicago, he was
sponsored by the South Side ministerial association. A renovated
skating rink seating 7,000 was used and the five-week meeting
drew some 260,000 people. He also went to Baltimore, Maryland
(1,200 to 2,500 converts) as well as Indianapolis, Toronto, St.
Paul, Kansas City, Minneapolis and Omaha.
In 1887, he preached in Kansas City and Boston among many
others. In 1889, his meetings included Los Angeles, Sacramento
and San Francisco, where 1,200 made decisions. The years 1890-91
saw meetings in Chattanooga, Little Rock, Wilmington, among
The Jones crusade in Memphis in 1892 had 2,500 conversions
and this was also the year he gave up his connection with the
North Georgia Orphanage in Decatur.
Although he passed the peak of his career by the middle of
the 1890’s, he continued to return year after year to certain
cities. He conducted eighteen revival sin Nashville alone.
Between visits to larger cities, he preached in almost every city
with a population of over 10,000 in the South. In 1897, Sam went
back to Boston at the request of the Methodist preachers with
many Baptists cooperating also once he was there. Some 2,500
decisions for Christ were made.
The 1899 revival in Toledo, Ohio, was perhaps his most
unique. The city had recently elected a mayor, a man who actually
claimed to live and administer the law according to the Golden
Rule. The name of the mayor was Sam Jones! (Actually, Samuel M.
Jones.) The confrontation of Mayor Sam Jones, known as “Golden
Rule Jones,” against evangelist Sam Jones, became a full-fledged
battle and one of the classic events of revival history. The
crusade began on March 5, with the next mayoral election to be
held April 3. At the opening session in the city Armory, the
mayor, Samuel M. Jones, introduced the evangelist, Samuel P.
Jones. The mayor, ignored by his party, the Republicans, decided
to run as an independent. Although a moral man with good
intentions, his “let everything be done with love” philosophy had
kept open 700 saloons and 150 gambling dens. On March 12, at a
meeting for 6,000 men, the evangelist let them have it, mayor and
all! Headlines in the Republican Toledo Blade, read,
“Evangelist’s Hot Shot,” “Jones batteries turned on municipal
authorities; declares if the Devil were mayor, he would not
change a thing!” In the Democratic Toledo Bee, the headlines
said, “Sam P. Jones rips up Toledo’s administration; he prefers
rule of hate to rule of love that keeps saloons open.” (The mayor
was reelected later by a high majority.)
Sam Jones usually stayed three weeks in an area, sometimes
five. Auditoriums were usually around 5,000 seating capacity with
some 150,000 attending for the series. The choirs were around 400
and the ushers around 40. His income averaged around $30,000 per
year (that was 100 years ago!). Much of it was given away to
worthy causes.
He preached with such zeal that his health finally broke.
For some years he rested from evangelistic preaching and turned
his skill to lecturing, primarily against the liquor traffic. He
spoke about the “moral issues” of the day and sought reform in
corrupt cities. In some cities, especially in the South, he was
able to persuade the citizens to outlaw saloons and drive out the
other enemies of the Christian faith.
Eventually he resumed evangelistic preaching. It is said
that when Sam preached, liquor stores closed, theaters and jails
emptied, and cussing was reduced to whispers. His life was
threatened on several occasions. His crude wit, coarse stories,
and rural life drollery captured his hearers everywhere. Like
Billy Sunday, his eccentricities of speech, his unconventional
ways and manner probably contributed to his popularity. Jones
spent every summer after 1885 touring Chautaugua circuits. Much
of the wit of Will Rogers is traceable to Sam Jones. This wit is
illustrated by some of the following stories:
One time a committee complained that they brought him to
town to preach to sinners but that he ended up preaching at them!
He said, “Never mind, I will get to the sinners. I never scald
hogs until the water is hot.”
Once, when asked why he didn’t attack the Catholics, he
replied, “When I get through with the Methodists, it’s bedtime.”
In one revival, the pastors, feeling Jones shouldn’t be so
negative in his preaching, gathered for a prayer meeting one
afternoon to pray for him. Jones, driving by the tabernacle, was
overjoyed to see a group of ministers conducting a prayer
meeting, so he slipped in to join them. He heard their prayers
about him…”Help him to have more tact, change his mannerisms,”
etc. Then it was his turn to pray:

{BQT} Lord, I hope you won’t listen to a one of these
preachers. They don’t preach against sin. They don’t visit from
door to door. They don’t weep over sinners, and they don’t win
souls. And they want You to change me until I’m just like them. O
Lord, help these preachers to have enough sense to realize that
if You were to answer their prayers, I would be just as worthless
and no-account as they are. I’d be too lazy to work too. I’d be
afraid to fight sin and too cold to cry over sinners and too
indifferent to win souls. Please God, don’t make me like any of
these fellers.

{EQT}His prayer continued and a great sweeping revival was seen.
In another town, a saloon keeper approached Jones when he
was walking down a street and asked if it was true that Jones
hated liquor, etc. He held up a ten dollar bill and taunted the
evangelist…”I bet you’d like to have that! I make my money
selling whiskey.” He was totally surprised when Jones grabbed the
ten and said, “Yes, I’ll take it! The Devil has had it long
In Sigourney, Iowa, three saloons were licensed for $300
each, or $900 in all. The town was only 2,000 in population, so
in his speech, Sam declared the liquor dealers might as well walk
up to the people and ask, “If you will let us damn this town, we
will give you 40 cents apiece.” He asked how much a 200-pound hog
would bring. He was told $12. “So,” replied the evangelist, “hogs
$12 apiece and people 40 cents apiece. Say, brother, don’t you
wish you were a hog? For the pitiful sum of 40 cents each, you
turn your boys over to be debauched, the hearts of mothers are
crushed, and the town ruined…all for 40 cents! This is cheap;
but I suppose that is all you are worth, eh?”
To a tightwad Christian who complained about being asked to
contribute to the church, after being saved out of alcoholism, he
lashed out. “Well, you paid the Devil $250 a year for the
privilege of plowing with a steer on rented land, and now you
don’t want to give God, who saved you, five dollars a year for
the privilege of plowing with horses on your own plantation.
You’re a rascal from the crown of your head to the sole of your
Jones made absolutely nothing of education, would not
tolerate stiffness or formality, was definitely informal, was
blunt and uncouth in his preaching, direct and child-like in his
His crude mannerisms would include, “I wouldn’t wipe my feet
on” someone. He made much use of a phrase like, “put the hay down
low enough so that both the jackass and the giraffe can get to
it.”…”Many a fellow is praying for rain with his tub bottom
up,”…”It tickles me to see an old sinner come in and pull out
an old, dwarfed member of the church, lay his down and measure by
him, and say, `Look here, boys. I’m as long, as broad, and as
good as this man’.”
An eyewitness to a Jones revival might put him in his proper
perspective. Tom Watson tells about a revival in Thomson,

{BQT}How he did peel the amen corner. How he did smash their
solemn self-conceit, their profound self-satisfaction, their
peaceful co-partnership with the Almighty, their placid
conviction that they were trustees of the New Jerusalem. After
awhile with solemn, irresistible force he called on these
brethren to rise in public, confess their shortcomings, and kneel
for Divine grace. And they knelt. With groans, and sobs, and
tears, these old bellwethers of the flock fell on their knees and
cried aloud in their distress. Then what? He turned his guns on
us sinners. He abused us fore and aft. He gave us grape and
canister and all the rest. He abused us and ridiculed us, he
stormed at us and laughed at us, he called us flop-eared hounds,
beer kegs, and whiskey soaks. He plainly said that we were all
hypocrites and liars, and he intimated somewhat broadly, that
most of us would steal. After the meetings the community settled
back to business, but it has never been the same community since.
Gambling has disappeared, loud profanity on the streets was heard
no more, and the bar-rooms were run out of the country.

{EQT} D.L. Moody once attended a service to hear Sam preach.
After hearing him, he wrote him a letter:

{BQT}God has put into your hands the sledge hammer with which to
shatter the formalism of the Church and batter down the
strongholds of sin, and He is helping you mightily to use it. God
bless you.

{EQT} A year before his death, Jones was called to the
speaker’s platform in Atlanta by President Theodore Roosevelt,
who said to him, “Sam, you have been doing as a private citizen,
what I have tried to do as a public servant.”
Musicians who traveled with Sam Jones included E.O. Excell,
who composed many hymns, and Walter Holcomb, who led singing for
him and later married his daughter.
Death came suddenly. Coming home on a train from a campaign
in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and planning to celebrate his fifty-
ninth birthday back in Cartersville, he dropped dead. Earlier
that morning he complained about not feeling well, drank a glass
of water and toppled over. This was near Perry, Arkansas, twelve
miles from Little Rock. His funeral in Atlanta, Georgia, was a
state affair.
Books that came out after his death were Famous Stories of
Sam P. Jones (1908), Popular Lectures of Sam P. Jones (1909), Sam
Jones Revival Sermons (1912) and Lightning Flashes and
Thunderbolts (1912). His own works included Sermons and Sayings
(1883), Music Hall Series (1886), Quit Your Meanness (1886), Sam
Jones’ Own Book (1887), St. Louis Series (1890) and Thunderbolts


About georgehach

I am a retired Lay Minister, acting as a prophet for God to understand the end times that is comingg and how to prepare for it.
This entry was posted in Christian. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to 2-1-2-1-The Learning Church

  1. Pingback: 2-1-2-1-The Learning Church | Christians Anonymous

Comments are closed.