In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
These short six verses display the wondrous movement of God. Within the sweeping context of world history, the word of God comes to a certain man who is in the wilderness, far removed from the central happenings of the day. The text moves intentionally from the emperor of the powerful Roman empire, to the governor of Judea, to the vassal king of Galilee, to the regional rulers, to the high priests and finally to the bottom of the political pecking order, to the last person in line for power, to an insignificant man named John who sits not on a throne in a palace, but on a rock in the wilderness. And to whom does the word of God come? Not to any of the world figures the text passes by, but to this obscure prophet, a preacher’s kid, hanging out on the edge of society. This is the “scandal of particularity”- that God’s word, so grand and universal, would come to this particular one in this particular time and place.
But that’s only half the movement. Once the word of God came to John in the wilderness, John got up from his spot of particularity and began to preach into all the region around Jordan. And his words were not words to one certain individual any longer. They sounded like this: “Prepare the way of the Lord. Every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked shall be made straight, the rough ways made smooth, and ALL flesh shall see the salvation of God.” When we hear God’s word, we, too are given message for all the world.
Gail noticed the disheveled young man slip into the worship service on the back row ten minutes late. She caught his eye and smiled at him warmly. She went and sat on his row, giving him space, but not leaving him alone. She passed him a bulletin. After the service, she greeted him and told him how glad she was he had come. Little did she know, he was a former pastor, devastated by a divorce, and worshipping in a church for the first time in a year. Her warm welcome began to thaw out his heart that had become frozen by fear. Next she invited him to a Bible study. He didn’t want to go, but he did because of Gail. Today, ten years later, he credits Gail with getting him back into faith, and even back into ministry. Now he pastors a growing church where he looks out for people like him on the back row.
Let us be swept up into the wondrous movement of God- from the grandeur of heaven to the least important of people, from the least important of people to the ears of the whole world.
Today, you might be the one, for someone.
How scandalous- how wonderful. How great the joy!