Summary: John the Baptist received the word of God in the desert, and prepared the people for the coming of Christ by calling them to repentance.
We are in the season of Advent. We prepare now for the coming of Christ at Christmas, and we recall that He will come again with power and great glory on the last day. The Incarnation was long foretold by the prophets and looked for by God’s faithful people.
The secular world prepares for this season of Christmas, and sweet baby Jesus, and the songs, presents, decorations, food, and parties. The celebration of Christmas in the secular mind is all about the lead up to the big day. Once Christmas arrives, the season has hit its apex and immediately recedes; all that’s left is to return the presents you don’t want, exchange the clothes that don’t fit, and put away the tree and take down the lights.
What does a Christian walk through the pre-Christmas season, through Advent look like? We take time prepare for the feast of the Incarnation. We sing different songs—songs about God’s coming (Lo! He comes with clouds descending, Come Thou long expected Jesus, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry, The King shall come when morning dawn, O come O come Emmanuel). These songs speak of the hope of Christmas, of the grandeur of God’s final coming, and of the need to be ready for the Lord’s arrival. We also prepare presents, but ours are gifts of ourselves readied for the Lord. We decorate differently, using purple and blue to remind us that the baby that come is a king—the King of Kings—, and that He who comes again is still King.
The Christian pre-Christmas season stands as a witness against the secular form of preparation. Advent says that, although we come to the Incarnation of Jesus with great joy and wonder, with feelings warm and fuzzy, we dare not approach without preparation, with no gift for the King.
John the Baptist came as the final prophet to prepare the way for the Lord’s arrival. His ministry was to ready the people for Messiah and to hand the torch of the Law over the One Who is the Law made flesh.
“The word of God came to John” (Lk. 3:2).
In the course of space and time and history, God broke in and worked our salvation. “The word of God came to John.” John was born to Zechariah, a priest. We know that Zechariah and Elizabeth were “both well along in years.” He would have been pretty close to 50 years old, since he was serving in the temple, and only men between ages 25 and 50 were permitted (Num. 8:24-25). (Let that one sink in for what it means to be old!) John would have been near the age of thirty when the word of God came to him. He would have served several times in the temple, for two weeks each year, like his father.
To this man, the word came. In John’s own life, a mini-incarnation took place. Through his purity of heart and righteous life, by his drawing near to God, God drew near to him (cf. Jas. 4:7).
“The word of God came to John” is a formula that we should recognize. It occurs well over a hundred times throughout the Old Testament. It announces, quite literally, that the message that follows is not the words of man but is the very word of God. It means that the message is not from the prophet as a man, but from the Lord through the prophet. So listen up!
“The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert” (Lk. 3:2).
John didn’t find the word of God in a palace with its decadent luxuries, nor in the city with its many opportunities for dissipation, nor at home with the many projects and tasks to complete, nor even in the temple. God can, and does, speak to us in all places. But when we take ourselves away from the distractions, luxuries, and responsibilities of ordinary, mundane life, and for a time consecrate ourselves entirely to seeking His face, He comes to us in very special ways.
John went out into the desert, the wilderness. In the desert the Israelites went to Horeb to worship God. In the desert, the Israelites wandered for 40 years because they hardened their hearts. In the desert, the goat was released on the Day of Atonement to carry Israel’s sins (Lev. 16:20–22). Throughout salvation history, the desert has been a place of refuge, or deliverance, and of testing. Jesus, immediately after being baptized, went out into the desert for 40 days.
While most of our lives are not lived in the desert, we must regularly take time to retreat there. During our lives, at major changes—graduation, marriage, birth of a child, loss of a close relative—we should seek the desert in a profound way to find God’s voice again. In the midst of so many emotions, thoughts, and responsibilities, the need to reestablish connection to God in a new place is critical. We should each year take time apart to retreat into the desert to reconnect to the word of God for our lives—to find out what His goals are for us and where we have fallen short overall. We should also revisit this monthly and weekly. And each day, we need to visit the desert to receive the word of God, to come to Him and find our His will for this day. By going out into the desert regularly, we become accustomed to listening for the word of God, our hearts grow fonder for these secluded moments, and we are transformed by being in the Lord’s presence, just as Moses’ face became radiant.