Luke 3:2 – … during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Where were you when God called you? I do not know why John the Baptist was in the wilderness but I do know that God finds a lot of people there.
God forced the people of Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years because of their sin but stayed with them in it despite their sin and rebellion. Wildernesses are nothing for God. He knows where they are, what happens in them and why we end up in them, sometimes for a very long time. The Word of God came to John in the wilderness. What wildernesses do you end up in? Are you there now? Do you go there for good reasons or bad? Do you end up there despite all your efforts to stay out of them? Luke probably draws our attention to the call of John in the wilderness to point out that John is the fulfilment of ancient prophecy (Isaiah 40:3). Consider the way Isaiah 40:3 is worded
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Compare that to the way Luke puts it in Luke 3:4
“The voice one crying in the wilderness,
“Prepare the way of the Lord”.
Do you see the difference? One says that John calls out from the wilderness, which is certainly true, as Luke is careful to point out to us. But the way it is worded in Isaiah says that John’s message is that people prepare the way of the Lord in the wilderness. What a great thought. What a liberating, gracious thing this is. We can prepare to meet Jesus right in our wildernesses. We do not climb out of them first and then meet Him. Not at all. He comes to us right where we are and we receive Him right there. The Christian faith is not about us leaving our wildernesses and finding Jesus waiting for us in a better place that He has prepared for us and which becomes very comfortable. It is about Jesus entering the wilderness that we are trapped in and staying there with us as we now live there with Him and no longer alone. There are many Christian testimonies that tell us of being in the wilderness and after having found Jesus climbed out of it. If we think of our wilderness as a life lived running away from God then that is true. But it is also true to the Scriptures and to the Gospel to say that Jesus entered our wilderness, took up residence there with us and now guides us through it until our death.
Exodus 3:1 – Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Moses was living in this wilderness region because he was fleeing for his life. He was hiding because as chapter 2 of Exodus tells us, Pharaoh sought to kill Moses (2:15). And God found him there and we have the account of one of the most dramatic calls to ministry in all of the Bible. Wildernesses seem such safe places when we are being chased. We retreat into them because even though they are hot and bleak and lonely, they are better than facing up to what is after us. We don’t necessarily like it in the wilderness but it is where we feel protected. And so we stay. And God comes and offers us something better. A Puritan described God as the “hound of heaven”. He gets a scent and will not quit until He has found the owner of it. God knows your wilderness. He knows where it is and He knows where you are in it. He knows why. He comes into that dry deserted place of sin and loneliness and safety from whatever it is you need protection from – and offers you something better. He offers you Him.
You don’t have to be a person without faith in Jesus to be retreating into a wilderness. Believers do it all the time. They do it by pretending to be more righteous than they are. They do it by looking down on others and thereby getting the attention off themselves. They do it by putting on artificial smiles and artificial voices and looking the part in order to hide the fact that they are in a wilderness. They do it because they, too, are lonely and hurt and depressed. It is tragic and it is unnecessary.
Try Genesis 16:1-7. Hagar, Abraham’s wife’s servant has been victimized by the law of the land and Abraham and Sarah. Sarah cannot bear children and God has promised Abraham a child. They reason that since Sarah cannot bear, that God wants the mother to be somebody else. The law of the land said that a servant could be a legitimate bearer of a legitimate heir. So Abraham had a son by Hagar. After her son was born Sarah got jealous, Hagar got haughty, and Abraham, in a marvelous example of leaderlessness, told Sarah she could do whatever she wanted with Hagar. Sarah made Hagar’s life so miserable that she fled into the wilderness.
The bullied child who stops playing with his peers. The abused wife who no longer associates with anyone. The young girl who thinks she is ugly. The people who spout off about their accomplishments or believe they have none. Wildernesses. The wilderness may be a house or a room. Or it may just be the mind. The people who live in them are with others but they are never really with anybody. They are in the crowd and nobody could be more alone.
Hagar’s wilderness was a place to get away and again, find safety. It was not her first choice but it was better than staying with the taunting and ridicule and jealousy. How easy it is for us to retreat from others because the pain of association is greater. We hate our wilderness, but it is better than the alternative. Genesis 16:7 says -“The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness”. How beautiful is that? God found her in the wilderness and He finds us in ours. Then look at chapter 21:20.
And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow.
God stayed with that boy all his life. Ah, we like to condemn Ishmael and all his descendents. But God dwelt with him for a lifetime. I fully expect to meet him in glory.
Matthew 4:1 – Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
Jesus was led into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. It is an excruciating thing to suffer temptation alone. Jesus went into the wilderness to endure real temptation. He knows what it is like to be tempted. He was hungry, dying of thirst and weakened from the lack of food. That’s when the devil came. Jesus went into that wilderness for us. And now He comes into our place of temptation and offers Himself to us there. Temptations were not meant to be endured alone. Fighting them alone will lead to you losing the battle. And here is the real wilderness. We get tempted, we fight for a while. We lose and then we journey further into the wilderness out of shame and embarrassment and self pity and self hatred. And Jesus comes and offers forgiveness. But we do not believe it. It is too good to be true. But it is true and it is for you.
John 3:14 – “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
The serpent was lifted up in the wilderness and that is where the Son of Man was lifted up.
In the inner places where we hide; in the secluded places where we feel safe. In the place where we feel banished from the presence of God. God comes. He comes to us in our wilderness because His Son has been here and died. Jesus came and died and now the Hound of Heaven has found us and rescues us from the wilderness.
But He has not carried us out yet has He? We are still on planet earth. There are still places of safety that we retreat to even though they do us harm. There are places where people banish us and will not let us out. We still live in the place where the temptations are practically unbearable and we feel like we cannot stand another minute of it. And God finds us in all these places. He comes into our wildernesses and finds us and stays there with us until our redemption is completed. What a story this is. What a magnificent truth.
There are far too many Christians who will seek to tell us that when God comes into our wildernesses He carries us out of them. Is that your experience? No. Because it is not true. He does not carry us out. He pulls up a chair and stays in the wilderness with us. When we are afraid and run to our inner places of safety, He is there. When we sin and pretend that we have not, He is there. When we have been banished to loneliness and ostracized He is banished with us. There is no better place to be than where God is. And God is everywhere, even in our wildernesses.
When David was hiding from Saul (or maybe it was Absalom) in the wilderness he wrote this:
Psalm 63:1-11 (ESV)
A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah.
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
 So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
 Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
 So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.
 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
 when I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
 for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
 But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
 they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
they shall be a portion for jackals.
 But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
What we need most when we are in our wildernesses is God Himself. He should be the deepest longings of our hearts at all times. It is in the wilderness where we are most prone to forget Him. But it is then that we should seek Him all the more. He does not wait for us to leave the wilderness. He enters them with us. Jesus was crucified in the wilderness. Seek Him right there in yours. He is there. He hears you. He has come. Welcome Him in.