This is the fourth blog in the series Welcome To The Wilderness. We have looked at Hosea and Gomer [Embracing The Wilderness], the Lover and His Beloved [Transformed In The Wilderness] , and Paul the apostle [Prepared In The Wilderness Part 1]. Now we will look at the life of John The Baptist and the time he spent in the wilderness. Actually, we will begin at his birth because there are some amazing truths that we do not want to miss by fast forwarding to his wilderness experience.
I want to begin in Luke’s Gospel chapter one. This story begins in verse fifty-seven. I trust that you will read the complete text because I do not want to take up valuable space re-writing all of that.
In verse eighty Luke records these words, “And the child continued to grow and to become strong in spirit, and he lived in the deserts [wildernesses] until the day of his public appearance to Israel.”
This verse follows a dramatic encounter at John’s birth where his dad Zacharias’ tongue is loosed and he begins prophesying about the life of his newborn son. This is important for several reasons but let’s just focus on the main one. John had no way in the natural to know what his dad said or the impact it would have on his life. The prophetic word carried all the impact that was necessary. God’s word will not return void when it finds soil that is conducive to receiving it and producing the fruit of it.
John was a newborn babe. There are four levels of spiritual maturity in the Kingdom. These four parallel our natural growth as humans. These levels of maturity are child, son, husband, father.
There are four levels of maturity in the child level. They are brephos [unborn or newborn], nepios [self-centered child], paidion [maturing child able to serve, or minister for and with dad], and teknon [fully mature child able to be given responsibilities].
The next level is sonship. This is the level of maturity where the dad can trust the son with his business.
Husbandship is the level where one on one relationships are managed honorably.
Fatherhood is the level where a person can take full responsibility for the welfare of a child.
So John is a brephos, or newbord child and his dad prophesies the word of the Lord into him. Luke, in verse eighty uses the Greek word paidion for ‘child’ even though in the natural John was a brephos. John received an upgrade of two maturity levels when his dad spoke the prophetic word to him.
Luke goes on to say John “continued to grow.” This speaks of inward and outward growth. John was growing physically, intellectually and emotionally. But Luke does not stop there. He says John “became strong in spirit.” This is vital because we all are made up of spirit, soul and body. Growing strong in spirit means that John was growing strong in the strength of the Lord. We are to be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. John was learning how to be led by his spirit that was being led by God’s Spirit. In other words, John was not being led by his emotions, intellect or physical desires and needs.
John lived in the deserts, or wildernesses. He paid the necessary price to live in solitude, without the aid of family or friends, until the process was completed. John learned the lesson of the wilderness that we must all learn. That lesson is to lean completely on the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The first three blogs dealt with different aspects of wilderness living so I will not take the time to revisit them all.
John lived in the deserts “until the day of his public appearance to Israel.” This means he stayed until God was done. So many of us want out when we think we are done. John trusted God, not himself for the time of his public appearance.
In Mark’s Gospel we find some more insight into John’s life in the wilderness. Mark says, “John was clothed with camel’s hair and he wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey” [1:6].
All of this tells us so much more than what meets our eye. Camel’s are beasts of burden. Mark said he was “clothed with camel’s hair.” The word clothed means to sink, or plunge oneself into. It is descriptive of a piece of clothing placed in a vat of dye for the purpose of changing its color. This same word Jesus used in Luke 24 when He commanded His disciples not to leave Jerusalem to go minister until they were “clothed” with Power from on high.
John clothed himself in Christ Jesus. Jesus is our burden bearer. We are told that “He daily bears our burdens.” We are told to “cast all of our cares on Him.” We are told to “take His yoke upon us because His burden is light.” This is important because Mark also says John wore a leather belt. But I must not get ahead of myself. We will look at the belt in a moment.
Camel’s eat most anything, including thorn bushes. They devour things that would irritate most other animals. Paul said that he was given a “thorn in his flesh”. God said [I paraphrase], “Keep going because My grace will deal with the thorn.” Camels can travel long distances on little food and water but when they drink, they drink a lot of water. Water is symbolic of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. John immersed himself in the Spirit of God long before he immersed men in the waters of baptism for repentance.
Camel’s also have feet equipped to walk on hot and hard surfaces. Their feet are such that things that may trip up other animals they cruise over them. We are to shod our feet with the preparation of the Gospel of peace. Peace is not the absence of conflict. It is the inner confidence in the midst of conflict.
Now back to John’s leather belt. Leather is from the hide of a dead animal. This word means to flay, beat, thrash and smite. It is a picture of the crucified Lord of glory. John wore this leather as a belt. The word “belt” means a yoke that slaves wore. It also means balance or a pair of scales. John put on the crucified Lord that had been smitten, flayed, thrashed, and beaten. He yoked himself to the Lordship of Jesus.
Belt’s are worn around the waist. Our waist, or midsection, is the seat of our emotions and reproduction. It is the area of fruitfulness. It is also considered our ‘core’. We must have core values that guide our life. It is out of these core values that decisions are made before we are faced with making tough decisions. Compromise usually comes when we are not prepared to take a stand.
This truth about this belt signifies so much for us and our covenant with Jesus our Lord. Belt’s are transition points between our heart and our legs. God requires truth in our inward parts and we are to put on the belt of truth. Until we are transformed by His truth we have very little to offer humanity. Our legs need to be led by our heart, not our head. This is the way to walk in the paths of righteousness in an unrighteous world.
John ate locusts and wild honey. The word “locusts” means so much more than an insect. This word comes from a root word that means “to the farthest bounds or limits.” John lived off of a decision that he would go all the way for Jesus. Nothing and no one would deter him from accomplishing his mission once he was released.
He also ate “wild honey”. The word wild means to lead, to attach oneself to another, and refinement. Honey was deposited in trees, crevices in rocks or in the ground. Honey represents God’s word, His presence and His goodness. All three of which are very sweet. John made the necessary effort to find and be filled with the sweet things of God. He took advantage of every moment he had alone with God. Our Jewish friends will take some honey and put it on the tongues of their children when they are reading God’s word to them so they will equate His word with something sweet.
God hides things for us not from us. God loves to share in our excitement when we discover things. Deuteronomy 29:29 and Proverbs 25:2 give us some insight into this aspect of God’s parenting style.
Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”
Proverbs 25:2, “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, but it is the glory of kings to search out a matter.
These two scriptures depict a God who loves to play hide and seek. He loves to hide Himself and all the things he has stored up for us. And He loves for us to come find Him and all that He has for us. “You will search for Me and you will find Me when you search with all your heart” [Jeremiah 29:13].
Paul the apostle revealed this in 1 Corinthians 2 and 3. I will let you read this for yourself.
Proverbs 25:2 talks about matter. “Conceal a matter”, and “search out a matter.” You may be asking, “what’s the matter?” Exactly! The word “matter” is the Hebrew word dabar. Dabar means the revealed word of God. Another way to say it is this, dabar is the word that makes sense to us so we can apply it to our lives. This is huge as we connect some dots in the next verse we will study.
Luke gives some additional information about John in chapter three verse two. “The word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.”
The word “word” is the Greek word rhema. Rhema is the New Testament equivalent of the Hebrew word dabar. Are you connecting the dots? God was hiding in plain sight in the wilderness so John could find the word that would make sense to him. Now he was able to leave the wilderness and have something of worth to say to the world.
This word came to John but John had to search for it. “To come” means to be completed in him. It also means it became him or a part of him. God’s word and John became one. There was a congruence between the word of God and John. Will you allow me to say that the word became flesh?
So many believers, and pulpit ministers do not live what they preach. John did! He preached his experiences without compromise.
God’s word came to John. John means “God is a gracious giver.” The Hebrew equivalent, Yohanan means ‘God has graced.” God’s grace is His ability. John was now equipped with God’s ability.
John was the “son of Zacharias.” He was his son when he was his baby. This word for “son” does not mean a male person. It means fully mature and responsible to handle dad’s business without dad’s direct supervision. It is the third level of maturity we talked about earlier. It is a level of trust, not a gender or chronological age. Father God said of Jesus at the River Jordan, “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well-pleased.” The Son had just come out of His wilderness experience and now the Father was releasing Him into ministry.
John was the son of Zacharias. Zacharias means ‘God remembers’. This is a big deal because when the Angel Gabriel first came to Zacharias and told him his wife Elizabeth would get pregnant he did not believe the word of the Lord. This is why he was unable to speak for the entire time of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.
Gabriel said to John, “God remembers THE prayer you no longer pray, and I have come to answer THAT prayer.”
HALLELUJAH! God does not forget even when we do. Oh shout unto God all the earth. He is a faithful God, yes He is!
God’s word came to John in the wilderness. I believe the word that came to John was the word his dad prophesied to him at his birth. Sweet Jesus!
Lastly, Matthew tells us in chapter three verse three, “For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said [Isaiah 40:3], ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.'”
John found his voice in the wilderness. John found his message in the wilderness. John found himself in the wilderness and when he came out no one and no thing could derail him. He was so full of himself that all the forces of hell could not stop him.
Men may have taken his head but they never took his heart. This is what happens when we embrace the wilderness, are transformed in the wilderness and are fully prepared in the wilderness.
They may get our head but they will never get our heart. Our heart belongs to Jesus.
For HIS Glory!
Dr. Kevin M. Drury