August 29, 2016
Luke 3:1-3 is one of my favorite Scriptures. With its strange list of names, it may seem strange at first, but to me it is one of the most significant texts in the Bible.
"In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene—during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."
We tend to exaggerate the importance of the high muckety-mucks in life. Back in the day, it was Caesar, Pilate, Herod, Philip, Lysanias, Annas, and Caiaphas. These were the movers and shakers of first century Palestine. Everyone knew that anything of real significance that happened, happened in those halls of power. Things haven't changed much. Everyone looks to Washington, especially in an election year. There's just one small problem: the word of the Lord came to John in the wilderness. And it's to those in the wilderness that the word of God comes today.
Few people love the wilderness. It's harsh, unforgiving, and dangerous. It can kill you, and even if it doesn't, it will throw you to the ground and pummel you till you cry "Uncle." Most of us do everything we can to avoid the wilderness or to get out of it as quickly as we can. The wilderness is not a fun place to be. But it is in the wilderness where God reveals himself to his people. Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul all met God in the wilderness. Our God is a wilderness God. He loves wild places and the wild people who inhabit them.
There's more. When the Word of God comes, the people of God go. Those who stay put are rarely messengers of the One True God. This text hints at a side of the story we too often overlook. Church people love to talk about places of safety and security. Jesus for them is the gentle Shepherd who protects his people, not the Lion of Judah who leads his people into battle. But here we have God, wild and uncontrollable, who bypasses all the conventions of this world to speak to John in the wilderness.
Don't despise those harsh places, those times that threaten to tear your soul apart and reduce you to ashes. Those are the places, the times when you are most likely to encounter the Living God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I still don't like deserts. I much prefer watered gardens. But I know where God lurks, and it's rarely where "the dew is still on the roses." And I am grateful tonight for this reminder that I trust will hold me in good stead the next time I find myself in a desert.