JOHN THE BAPTIST AND FORERUNNER MINISTRY
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God has been speaking to us in these days about "The Wilderness", and speaking about it in many different contexts. I want to share some insights into the wilderness ministry of John the Baptist, the Preparer of the Way, the Forerunner of the Lord.

THE PREPARATION OF THE FORERUNNER.
In Luke ch.l v.80, we read of John that," The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness till the day of his manifestation to Israel."
From his birth to the day of his manifestation was a long time, thirty years approximately. This John, the son of a priest, had the right to be part of the religious system in Jerusalem, but God had him out of all that, in the wilderness. This wilderness time was a growing time, a time of becoming strong in the spirit. During this time John did not fret or strive. He did not yearn for the activities and the rites and forms of Jerusalem religion. He walked humbly and patiently with God and grew strong.
If we have been called to a Forerunner ministry, we too must expect and be willing to undergo a wilderness preparation, removed from the hustle and bustle of the religious systems. There, in the wilderness, John was an unknown, out of the church scene, unrecognised, hidden and apparently unfruitful. Jerusalem was where it all happened. We too must be ready for such a time, which may be quite a long time of hiddenness, with no evident ministry, nothing of what is seen as success, no recognition, but only a learning from God and an intimate walking with Him.

THE MANIFESTATION OF THE FORERUNNER.
This is the next stage. "The word of the Lord came to John, the son of Zechariah, in the wilderness." Luke ch.3:2 . When God's time was fulfilled, and not before, John was launched into his forerunner ministry by the word of the Lord coming to him in the wilderness. The word of the Lord did not come to the religious leaders in Jerusalem, or to the masses attending their services. The word that came to John included the command to go into the region of the Jordan. It imparted to him what was to be the thrust of his message, namely the call to repentance and baptism, and it also revealed to him his role as "A voice crying, in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the Lord."
With us likewise, in the wilderness, out of the church systems, we are to listen for the word of the Lord. There will come a time of manifestation and of revelation to us as to where to go and what to speak. That time will be of the Lord's choosing and appointment, and we must be ready to wait quietly and expectantly for it and not seek to contrive or hasten it.

THE MINISTRY OF THE FORERUNNER
In Godet's massive commentary on the Gospel of John, the writer gives, as one interpretation of the passage John ch.10 vs.1-6. that John the Baptist was the gatekeeper to the fold of Israel, who opened the door to Jesus, the Shepherd, to come in and to call out His sheep. The fold was the religious system of Judaism, and Jesus called His sheep out from the security of that system into His flock, where the security was no longer that of a system, but of His person as Shepherd.

The people came out to John from Judea and from Jerusalem, in a great moving of the Spirit of God. John himself did not go to Jerusalem to seek out the people. Rather they came looking for him, knowing that he had a message from God. For a time in John's ministry it was, as they say, "All on." Crowds came out to him and some gathered round him, for a period, as his disciples. But his ministry was not to gather people to himself, but of preparing the way of the Lord and of pointing to Him. He himself, after this exciting time, fades from the scene, his mission accomplished. Even his most intimate disciples and closest companions, he directed away from himself to Jesus.
All this has its parallels in what I believe God is calling us to. The day will come when those who have been receiving the word of the Lord in the wilderness will become a voice crying, "Prepare the way of the Lord!", and people, moved by the Spirit of God will come, eager to hear. They will be people who have come out from the Jerusalems of men's denominations and religious systems, as well as non-religious people who are hungry for reality. At such a time we may well be surrounded by many enquirers, and our task will be to call for repentance and to direct people to the Shepherd. He, the Good Shepherd, and the Great Shepherd of the sheep, will call His own by name and will bring them out of the multiplied folds of Christendom into His flock. Peoples' security will then no longer be in the safety of the organised folds, but in the person of Jesus, leading His flock. All John had to do was to prepare people to hear and follow Jesus. It was not his ministry to tell folks to come out of the folds, nor is it ours. Jesus Himself will call His people out. Ours will simply be to be gate-openers for Him.

When this time comes, and a flood of people come out to us, there will be a strong temptation to gather them round ourselves, to establish fellowships or churches, but that temptation we must strongly and vehemently resist. Our ministry, as was John's, will be to urge to repentance and to direct people to follow the Lord and Him only. Jesus has said. "There will be ONE FLOCK and ONE SHEPHERD." That is the vision which inspires us, the vision of the day when the "Folds" and structures and denominations pass away, when Jesus will have "Called His own sheep by name and led them out" John ch.10 v.3, and we shall be simply sheep of His pasture.

One final observation about John's ministry: the preparation time for it was long, the ministry time was short, probably no more than a few months, but the consequences were eternal. Such are God's ways: much hiddenness, crucially timed ministry, results that last for ever! Hallelujah!

Jack Gray