There was more than one wilderness in those days.
There was the barren wasteland through which the Jordan River flowed and there was a spiritual wilderness where the hearts of the leaders of the nation made their homes.

The Wilderness of Judea
This was the abandoned, uncultivated region East of Jerusalem stretching all the way to the Dead Sea. Although the Jordan flowed through this region, it retained its desert character with no fertile lands beyond the banks of the stream. It was poor ground for grazing so the land was given over to beasts of the wild and scavengers on the wing. Here John the Baptist preached his call to preparation for Messiah. Here was his pulpit found, his platform, and the fashion of the wilderness—a belt of camel’s hair—was his only vestment.

The Wilderness of a Vacant Religion
Why did the crowds leave their comfortable country homes and city dwellings to travel to a wasteland to hear this strange man and his discomfiting message? The answer is found in the other wilderness, the spiritual wilderness of an apostate religion. A new Temple was under construction to replace the one Zerubbabel had constructed to replace the one King Solomon built centuries before. The whispered scandal was that the Holy of Holies, the heart of any Temple where Jehovah was to be worshipped, was empty. The room was there and the heavy veil intended to shield the Ark of the Covenant from an unholy humanity, but the Ark itself was missing, captured long ago by enemies. Its location is a mystery to this day.

The empty Holy of Holies is the perfect representation of the state of the relationship of God with His Chosen People in the time of Jesus. Because of conquering nations, the leadership had become more political than spiritual. The highest councils and appointed leaders were engaged in the impossible task of maintaining the traditions of Israel and submitting to the Romans. Since the Jewish religion was monotheistic, demanding that only Jehovah was to be worshiped, the people and polytheistic Romans were on a collision course.

The only Spirituality remaining was highly personal, a remnant of faithful worshipers continuing to seek the Kingdom of God, putting their hopes in the promised Messiah. These are the ones who made the trek into the Wilderness of Judea to hear the Man of God and his message for their generation. They followed John into the waters of repentance and baptism.

A Delegation in the Wilderness
The apostate leaders from Jerusalem were wary of any prophet who threatened the delegate balance of life as a Roman province. They quizzed John, there in the wilderness, and he did not pretend to be more than he was, the Forerunner, not the Messiah. In this capacity, John proclaimed his message. Get ready, Messiah is coming!

“I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know.”

A ripple of fear ran through the delegation. Heads turned as security agents hidden in the crowd began to search for the One of whom John spoke. Laughing, John continued,

It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.”

Still laughing, John welcomed the next repentant sinner into the waters of the Jordan.

John 1: 19-28

Now this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you, that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” He said: “I am ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,”‘ as the prophet Isaiah said.” Now those who were sent were from the Pharisees. And they asked him, saying, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, saying, “I baptize with water, but there stands One among you whom you do not know. It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” These things were done in Bethabara beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

Lord Jesus, repentance is one of the things that makes grace really, really amazing. I understand that repentance is more than mere sorrow. Repentance involves a deep sorrow rooted not in regret for getting caught, but a true hatred for the sin itself. Repentance means to completely reverse course, forsaking the sin. It is the pathway out of the wilderness. This painful task is met with Your smile, not Your frown. May I ever pursue actions and thoughts that make You smile. Amen.

Just as I Am

Words: Charlotte Elliot; Music: William B. Bradbury

1. Just as I am, without one plea,
but that thy blood was shed for me,
and that thou bidd’st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

2. Just as I am, and waiting not
to rid my soul of one dark blot,
to thee, whose blood can cleanse each spot,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

3. Just as I am, though tossed about
with many a conflict, many a doubt,
fightings and fears within, without,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

4. Just as I am, thou wilt receive,
wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
because thy promise I believe,
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

TheJesusStory devotions are also found at KingdomWinds.com.

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