The Scriptorium

Voice in the Wilderness

John didn't make it easy for folks to hear him. Matthew 3.1, 2

Matthew 3: The Trailblazer (1)

Pray Psalm 2.7, 8.
“I will declare the decree:
The LORD has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give YouThe nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.’”

Sing joyously Psalm 2.7, 8.
(Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
Proclaim the message far and wide, that God has exalted the Crucified!
From heav’n He sent us His only Son, Who has for us salvation won!

Read Matthew 3; meditate on Matthew 3.1-3.

1. Where did John preach?

2. How would you summarize John’s message?

John appeared in the wilderness in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Is. 40.3-5). “In those days” refers to the time of Israel’s captivity to Rome, not to the time Jesus was spending in Nazareth as a child. John is a relative of Jesus (cf. Lk. 2.36), and was six months older than the Lord (in human terms). John didn’t exactly make it easy for people to hear him. He carried out his ministry “in the wilderness” near Aenon and Salim, by the Jordan (Jn. 3.23). The wilderness – barren and inhabited by wild beasts and devils (Mk. 1.12, 13) – was not a place to which people normally resorted. I often wonder about who first heard John, as he passed through that wild place, and then told others about him and his message. What would he have said about this strange man, so oddly dressed, and preaching such a hard message?

John’s preaching soon became widely known, and people came to him from “Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan” (v. 5). When they finally reached him in that remote place, the first word they heard was a demand that they repent. How unlike much current preaching. These days we want our preaching to be easy to receive. So we provide air-conditioned rooms, comfortable seating, happy songs before and after, sermons filled with stories and anecdotes, and all of this designed not to demand much of anything, but to make people feel good about themselves as followers of Jesus. What would John say?

John’s preaching blazed the trail for the coming of the Kingdom, as Isaiah further explained (Is. 40.6-31). He proclaimed that the Kingdom of heaven was near. The phrase “Kingdom of heaven” should be understood as “Kingdom that comes from heaven.” It is thus also the “Kingdom of God.” Entry to the Kingdom, John declared, is through the gate of repentance. Those who are not willing to confess their sins and turn from them are not fit to enter the Kingdom. This is still true today. Repentance and faith are the way into the Gospel and Kingdom of Christ (cf. Acts 2.37-39), and confession and repentance are ongoing disciplines of every true believer.

By quoting this portion of Isaiah 40, Matthew would have cued up that entire chapter for his Jewish readers. Isaiah 40 proclaims the coming of God’s glory for all people, and the “good tidings” of Immanuel (Is. 40.5, 9). The King is coming to rule and reward His people, and to feed and tend them like a flock (vv. 10, 11). He brings with Him justice and the knowledge of God (vv. 14), and a warning to the nations of judgment (vv.18-24), but a promise of salvation for all who wait on the Lord (vv. 25-31).

John’s ministry blazed the trail for the coming King and His Kingdom. And, in a very real sense, his work continues in all who know and proclaim Jesus today.

1. Why do you suppose John didn’t make it easier for people to hear his message?

2. How do we prepare the way of the Lord for those who do not know Him? 3. Why are confession and repentance still important disciplines for every believer?

John adds, “The kingdom of heaven is near.” So do you want the kingdom of heaven to also be near for you? Prepare these ways in your heart, in your senses and in your soul. Pave within you the way of chastity, the way of faith and the way of holiness. Build roads of justice. Remove every scandal of offense from your heart. For it is written: “Remove the stones from the road.” And then, indeed, through the thoughts of your heart and the very movements of your soul, Christ the King will enter along certain paths. Chromatius (fl. 400), Tractate on Matthew 8.1

Show me my sins, Lord, and I will repent, so that I may…

Pray Psalm 2.9-12.
Today you will go forth into your Personal Mission Field with the message of Good News. Use this time to prepare for the day, and for the opportunities you will have to prepare others to come to Jesus.

Sing Psalm 2.9-12.
Psalm 2.9-12 (Agincourt: O Love, How Deep, How Broad, How High!)
To Christ the Lord be given all who humbly embrace Him and on Him call.
Be wise, be warned: His judgment comes to break the prideful, sinful ones.

Rejoice with fear in Jesus’ grace, and worship before His exalted face!
Beware His anger and judgment grim: How blessed are all who rest in Him!

T. M. Moore

The Gospel of Matthew will help us grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Two companion books can supplement our study of Matthew. To Know Him examines what it means to belong to Jesus and to love and serve Him (click here), while Be Thou My Vision enables us to gain an even larger perspective on Jesus (click here).

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here).

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
Books by T. M. Moore