God Spoke to John … in the Wilderness
Family Solution Centre, Eldoret, Kenya
Bwana asa fiwe!
Lord Jesus, open our minds and hearts to Your truth, through the Holy Spirit, to the glory of God. Amen.
What a deep privilege – God is so good!
I am so deeply honored to be asked to be here with you today! The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for ALL people! And while we speak different mother-tongues, and live in different cultures, we also speak the SAME language of God’s love, we live in the SAME culture of Christian, biblical ethics, and we have ONE HOPE, ONE BAPTISM, ONE LORD, Jesus Christ! Amina?!
I pray that God blesses you, that God blesses US as we listen to His voice call our name today, and as we follow, more closely, today!
When WAS the last time you heard God’s voice?
- What did He sound like?
- What did He say?
- What did you do?
- How did you feel? Afraid? In awe? Humble? What is the correct response?
One year ago, my brother in Christ, Pastor Cary, had asked me if I might consider joining him on a “mission trip” to Kenya? He was going alone, and would love a brother to join him.
- I said YES – I might consider it!
- Then I turned to my wife, and we prayed, and we both “heard” God say, “You should go!”
- My Church, then prayed and heard God say, “You should go!”
- And then a small group of others from Pastor Cary’s Church heard God tell them “You should go!”
- And the 6 of us joined together and were welcomed into the ministry and into family of our dear Edina Nekesa Wanyonyi.
- God kept saying, “You should go!” So, fearfully, humbly, and excitedly, we all obeyed. God is so good!
Today, I invite you to hear the Word of God from the Gospel According to Luke – chapter 3.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when (A)Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and (B)Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, 2 in the high priesthood of (C)Annas and(D)Caiaphas,
This is real history. This actually happened. When Luke wrote this Gospel, his readers could remember the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor, and Herod and Philip and Lysanias were in charge of Galilee and east of the Sea of Galilee and southern Lebanon, and when Annas and Caiaphas shared the high priesthood. People knew these times, and they lived under these rulers.
Notice what Luke does –
- 1 Emperor (Tiberius – talented, ambitious, cruel, licentious, infamous, inhuman! – sought world dominion!, evil, mean-spirited, egomaniacal),
- 1 governor (Pontius Pilate – the local representative of the tyrant Tiberius, life and death were in his hands),
- 3 tetrachs (Herod, Philip, Lysanias – vassals of Rome – whatever Tiberius, or Pilate, wanted, they did!),
- and 2 high priests (Annas and Caiaphas – priests who were in it for the glory of themselves!)
- – Ruled by tyrannical Roman political sovereigns – and Led by degenerate Jewish religious leaders.
And the next line in the Bible says, “the word of God came upon John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.” This seems like the most important sentence: “Neno la Mungu lilipomjia Yohane, don wa Zakariya, kule jangwani.”
The Word of God (the Greek word used here is Rhema – that means the voice of God, the vocabulary of God – this different than when we say the Bible is the Word of God – that is Logos of God; when John writes the Word was with God and the Word was God, that is Logos – this is Rhema, the spoken words of God) came to John – Neno la Mungu lilipomjia Yohane.
- The Word of God did NOT come to Tiberius – their king
- The Word of God did NOT come to Pontius Pilate – the governor
- The Word of God did NOT come to Herod or Philip or Lysanias – the local rulers
- The Word of God did NOT even come to Annas or Caiaphas – their priests
- The Word of God passed the emperor, passed the governor, passed the tetrarchs, passed even the priests
- The Word of God came to a person prepared by God, chosen by God, to receive it!
- The Word of God came upon JOHN! Neno la Mungu lilipomjia YOHANE!
And where did God speak to John? Where was he when God’s Word came to him? He was in the wilderness!
John was not in Rome – He was not in Tiberius – He was not in any local county seat – He was not even in Jerusalem – John was kule jangwani! In the wilderness!
This seems very important to me!
Where will God’s Word find its home? Where will the Word of God find vantage ground?
- Not in Rome – that’s not a surprise, not impossible, but not where God chose … this time.
- Not in Jerusalem – we might have expected it there! The religious center, the capital of Israel … but not this time.
- God’s Word came upon John kule jangwani! In the wilderness!
Where does the Word of God find a home today? Maybe in Nairobe. Maybe in Mombasa. Maybe in Kitale or Bungoma.
- Does the Word of God find vantage ground in Kiminini? Yes it does!
- Does God’s Word speak in Eldoret? Yes it does!
- Does the Word of God live in Spokane, WA, USA? We have heard it! Yes it does!
This is what qualifies someone to preach. Yes, we need to prepare. We need to go to Bible School. We need to read, to study, God’s Word. We need to pray for God’s wisdom.
But what qualifies someone to preach God’s Word is when the Word of the Lord comes upon him!
The Word of the Lord came upon John – in the wilderness.
Luke is careful to tell us that this was of world-wide significance! All of time is measured by the events immediately following this story! And Luke tells us exactly when it happened – the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor, during the reign of Herod and Philip and Lysanias, and when the Jews had two High Priests – Annas and Caiaphas. This event was the beginning of everything!
Tell me if the power of the Word of God, nguvu za Neno la Mungu, has come upon you! Shout out to me if you have ever experienced God’s Word – living, alive, in you! Everything was changed for you!
What does John do when he hears the Word of God? Listen: 3 he came into all (F)the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, (Isaiah 40)
“(G)The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight.
5 ‘(H)Every ravine will be filled,
And every mountain and hill will be [a]brought low;
The crooked will become straight,
And the rough roads smooth;
6 (I)And all [b]flesh will (J)see the salvation of God.’”
7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, “(K)You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and (L)do not begin to say [c]to yourselves, ‘(M)We have Abraham for our father,’ for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Indeed the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; so (N)every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
The Word of God came upon John in the wilderness, and the people recognized something about him that was different, something that was worth listening to, something that intrigued their minds and their hearts.
John’s mission, to prepare the Way for the Lord, was Baptism of Repentance! And his opening words, his greetings to the people who came to him was, “You brood of vipers! You offspring of snakes!” These people knew the Bible stories, they knew the Creation stories of Genesis. What was the creature who slithered to Eve and lied to her about eating the Fruit of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? – The Serpent! It was Satan. The Father of Lies. John was calling his audience a “Litter of Liars! A Society of Deceivers!” John was not trying to make friends! He was trying to save souls!
One of the lies the people believed was that it was good enough to simply be an Israelite! Belonging to a family that was somehow connected to Abraham was good enough. Having parents or grandparents who are active in the Church makes me a Christian. Being a Church Member gives me God’s favor! That is a lie! All of that is a lie!
God never called us to simply be good Church Members! What does God call us to? He calls us to be Blessing Bearers, to the world – to our families, to our neighbors, to neighboring clans and tribes and nations. Luke tells us in the Book of Acts that Jesus tells us to be Blessing Bearers in Jerusalem (or Spokane, or Eldoret), in Judea (or Spokane County, or Uasin Gishu County), in Samaria (or Washington State and the USA, or Kenya, or Uganda, or Tanzania, or all of Africa), to the ends of the earth! Jesus does not say, start at home and eventually move farther away, when you feel ready to do more. He says, start at home, and start in the region, and start with your neighbors, and start all the way across this planet we call Earth, all at the same time!
Be Blessing Bearers – carriers of God’s Good News! Growing in the Fruit of the Holy Spirit every day. When we stop growing and bearing God’s Fruit, He will prune us and cut off the branches that are dead and take an axe to the root of the tree that bears bad fruit!
What does John tell his listeners after the Word of the Lord came upon him? God’s Word for his audience was “Repent! Today! Before it is too late! See the log in your own eye, and turn your life toward God! Repent!”
Jesus comes to be Baptized by John – Jesus, the Son of God comes to a Baptism of Repentance! What does Jesus need to repent from? He has not sinned. He has never stopped loving the Lord His God, or His neighbor as Himself – the Law is fulfilled in Him, not broken by Him. Why does Jesus come to be Baptized for Repentance?
Listen to the story:
21 (AB)Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was (AC)praying, heaven was opened,22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “(AD)You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased.”
I believe Jesus was Baptized by John for three reasons:
- Submission to God’s authority
- Example to God’s people
- For the public display of the Holy Trinity – the Father spoke words of love and affirmation, unearned praise – My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased – no miracles yet, no water into wine yet, no lame given strength in their legs yet, no blind given their sight yet, no dead raised to new life yet, no Gospel Words preached to crowds or even to individuals yet; but the Trinitarian Father expresses His oneness and love for His Son, and the Holy Spirit makes a visual appearance in the form of a dove.
This Baptism shows the world that Jesus, while completely human, and tempted in every way, is truly God … in the flesh, incarnate, who was to live and die and conquer death and ascend to heaven – and to one-day return!
In fact, the very next set of paragraphs tell of Jesus’ genealogy, all the way back to Adam, whom Luke calls, “son of God”.
And what does God do with Jesus as soon as He is Baptized and Ordained – God sends Jesus into the wilderness – the same wilderness where John received the Word from the Lord! And Jesus doesn’t go to a Wilderness Resort – not a Hilton Hotel or even a lovely Guest House. Jesus goes into the Wilderness for 40 days of Prayer and Fasting!
John heard the Word of God, and he was sent out of the Wilderness into the populace to preach repentance and to prepare the way for Jesus to come and offer salvation through faith alone in God’s grace alone by way of Jesus’ death and resurrection alone.
Jesus heard the Voice of God, and He was sent INTO the Wilderness – for time alone with His Father, to strengthen His resolve, to give muscle to His trust, to add credibility to His testimony.
The Word of God, Neno la Mungu, is still active and alive today! God calls your name! God gives you charge. Because God loves you, and wants you to serve in His army against evil and on the side of Grace and Justice.
Do not be like a brood of vipers – be children of God! Serving in His Kingdom. Today – because today, God’s Word is for you! Amina! Amina! Amina!
Morgan, G. Campbell; The Gospel According to Luke; Revel; Tarrytown, NY; 1931; Pp. 47-56.