He said, “I am a voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Make straight the way of the Lord—just as Isaiah the prophet said.” John 1:23 (CSB)
We live in an era with “self-proclaimed experts” offering advice on just about any subject imaginable. If you have a message that you want people to hear about, you can easily find books and seminars on “how to build your audience” or “how to increase your following on social media.”
Are you interested in starting a church? Try searching for “Church Planting” under books on Amazon; it will return over 2000 choices. My point is this if you think that you have something important to say, conventional wisdom suggests or demands that you go to where you will find your audience.
I am not saying that you should necessarily seek out the wilderness, but nevertheless, that is where you will find yourself at times. Society seems to be intent, or should we say hell-bent (pun intended) on driving Christian voices from the public square. John the Baptist’s message was not necessarily well-received by “polite society.”
Why the Wilderness?
John the Baptist was different. John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:4 (NIV). Was he in the wilderness because of the way he dressed and ate? Or did he dress and eat the way he did because he was in the wilderness?
Either way, John was excluded from the centers of political, social, and religious power. Yet, people traveled a great distance to hear John’s proclamations. John’s message was not a gentle one. He spoke directly, even harshly. It was a message of repentance.
The wilderness speaks of barrenness and dryness. The wilderness evokes images of danger and isolation. John’s message and his calling were to announce and prepare the way for the Messiah. Whether by choice or coercion, the wilderness seems like an unlikely place to begin a revolution.
Our Bible overflows with stories of heroes emerging from unlikely places. Joseph went from the prison to the palace in a single day. Gideon went from being the least of the least to being used as Israel’s deliverer. Jesus came into the world by way of a humble stable in Bethlehem.
God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world—what is viewed as nothing—to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one may boast in his presence. 1 Corinthians 1:28–29 (CSB)
If John the Baptist had lived in our day, he would have had to overcome gurus and experts eagerly advising him (for a fee) on the most effective strategies for getting his message out to the people. Image consultants would urge him to ditch the camel’s hair for something more stylish. You know that I am not exaggerating. A half a century ago Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message.”
Today, we live in a world where style is given priority over substance. Entertainment is pursued instead of truth. We can excuse the world for such ignorance, but why do God’s people seemingly follow the same path? There is one definition of insanity: “doing the same thing again and again yet expecting a different result.” We must return to the foundations.
The early Christians did not have impressive credentials by earthly standards. The apostles were an odd assortment of fishermen, a political activist, a former revenue collector, and yet they made an impact that still reverberates today. The one thing that was in their favor was that “they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
Resounding from the Margins
It does not require prophetic insight to see forces within society seeking to exclude godly voices from public discourse. Increasingly, as Christians, we are being told that a biblical perspective should be a disqualification for judicial positions. A schoolgirl has been prohibited from wearing a face mask embroidered with the words “Jesus Loves Me” to school.
The voice of John the Baptist may have emanated from the wilderness, but that does not mean that the world did not hear it. His voice was strong, and his message was unmistakable. People traveled more than a day’s journey to listen to John preach an uncomfortable message of repentance. Could it be that his voice was heard more clearly because of the wilderness, not despite it?
Historically speaking, the Christian voice has been most effective when it was countercultural. Yes, it is less comfortable and even dangerous, but do not think for a moment that God cannot use voices speaking from the margins of society.
The purpose of the “voice crying out in the wilderness” is “to prepare a way for the Lord.” The terrain will change (people’s hearts and lives will be made ready). Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. Luke 3:5 (NIV)
For God’s Glory
We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NLT)
It may seem counterintuitive, but a voice calling from the wilderness (anointed by God) will be heard, and it will have a more significant impact than we can imagine. Remember, God uses “foolish things,” “weak things,” and even “things that are despised by this world” to nullify those things that this world considers to be significant.
Then the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. The Lord has spoken!” Isaiah 40:5 (NLT)