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
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
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!