3In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, 4as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 5Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Reading Scripture to Know:
- What is happening/being said? (Observation)
- Why is this happening/being said? (Interpretation)
- What does the rest of Scripture say about it? (Evaluation)
- What does it mean? (Understanding)
- What does it mean for us? (Application)
Reading Scripture to Grow:
- What words or phrases stand out to you? Why?
- Where do you hear the voice of God in this Scripture?
- How do you see the character of God reflected in this Scripture?
- How does this Scripture reveal God?
- How does this Scripture expose humanity and its need for God?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in your life?
- How does this Scripture speak to what is happening in our world?
- What might God want to communicate to you (us) this week through this Scripture?
Scripture Reads Me:
- This passage makes me feel…
- This passage makes me think about…
- This passage reminds me of…
- This passage teaches me that God is…
- This passages teaches me that I am…
- This passage challenges me to…
Reflection: The word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
Have you ever been in the wilderness? I remember last year when our family was flying to California for vacation. We had a layover in Arizona. As we landed, and even as we flew over New Mexico on the way, you could see large, long swaths of desert. At times, the only thing you could see for miles were cracked canyons interrupting a brown, thirsty landscape. And yet, as we started to land in Phoenix, you began to see green yards and swimming pools at every home. The people had learned to live in the desert through artificial means. But the dry land still surrounded them on every side.
Wildernesses do not always need to be physical deserts. We can experience societal wildernesses and spiritual deserts as well. John physically went into the wilderness to draw his society’s attention to their need for God. But he also existed in a socio-political desert in which the people were oppressed and corrupt people like Herod, Philip, Annas, and Caiaphas wielded corrupt political and religious authority. The people were thirsting for God, even if they did not consciously realize it. That is why John’s ministry was so successful – and so threatening to those in power.
Sometimes God takes us to the wilderness to teach us and form us. From Moses to Jesus to Paul’s time spent in the Arabian desert, God has used the barren places to reveal his abundance to his called leaders. It is in the wilderness that we experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and we learn to live independent of the societal structures and influences that run counter to the Kingdom of God.
John is able, then, to announce to the people the loving forgiveness of God available to them if they would turn away from corruption and turn toward God. When you have experienced victory in the wilderness, you can help others find their way out. If you can receive God’s message of love in the middle of the dry and rocky seasons of the spirit, then you can face any situation – easy or difficult – with the confidence of that love.
Being in the wilderness can be very difficult. But sometimes God allows us to set up camp there to build us up in love and reliance on God alone. Though it appears to be barren, the wilderness can become on of the most fruitful places of life. Are you willing to embrace the wilderness if it will draw you closer to God?
Journaling Focus: As is it written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah…
There is much about the lives of John and Jesus that are fulfillments of Old Testament prophecy. Prophecy, at times, foretells future events. But prophecy also brings forth what is on the mind of God concerning different cultural and historical realities. This week, pick one new story or societal issue (such as immigration, the state of the American family, economics, etc.) and pray for God’s wisdom and insight into that situation. Ask God what he thinks/feels/sees in relation to that particular issue. Pray that God will empty you of your own biases. What do you hear God saying? Write down what you feel God is saying about that topic. Go back to this journal entry a few days later and repeat the process. Are you hearing new things? Is your perspective changing?
This practice allows you to listen to the Scripture for the week (in larger context) and to open yourself up to God’s voice in that Scripture.
Click on the audio link above and listen to the Scripture. As you listen this first time, ask God to point out to you a word or phrase from the Scripture.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a second time. As you listen this second time, ask God to reveal to you the holy intentions for this word or phrase that is being spoken into your life.
- Click on the audio link above again and listen to the Scripture a third time. As you listen this third time, ask God how you might respond to this word or phrase being spoken into your life today.
Read and sing the hymn Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming. By following the link, you can access the text and audio files for the hymn. Pay special attention to what this hymn says about when Jesus came to us – in the night. Why is that significant? What is God communicating to you through this song? What might you communicate to God through this song?
Prayer Focus: The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord…”
There are many injustices, many wildernesses, that people around the world face daily: poverty, oppression, inequality, hatred, and so much more. We can be a voice for justice by praying for God’s children who live in unjust circumstances. Ask God to move in the hearts of the oppressors and to raise up leaders who will deal fairly with their communities and their people. Trust God to reveal to you an area of injustice that you can address through your service to God and God’s people.
Meditation Focus: The crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth.
Find a rock outside. Take it in your hands and rub your fingers over its surface. Are there rough edges? Are there smooth spots? As you examine the rock, meditate on the rough edges of life that you have experienced. Where was God in those difficult times? Then, continuing to examine the rock, meditate on the ways God has smoothed and polished your soul. What were those experiences like? What effects of that soul-polishing have you noticed in your life? How might God continue to smooth out your soul?
Take some time to reflect upon your day or your week. Follow the process below and open yourself up to the presence and work of God in your life this week. Every week the structure is the same, but some specifics are changed to reflect the Scripture of the week.
- Find a place and posture that will prepare you for prayer.
- Begin by breathing in deeply through your nose and breathing deeply out of your mouth.
- Invite God to lead you through the previous day or week. For instance, if it is Tuesday night, reflect back on Tuesday morning, afternoon, and evening. If it Saturday or Sunday, reflect back on Monday through Friday.
- Ask God to guide you through these questions:
- Where have you come in contact with the barren places of life?
- How have you witnessed God straightening out the crooked places and smoothing out the rough places?
- How have you “seen” the salvation of God?
- Thank God for this journey of reflection on your day or week. Ask God to continue to reveal Godself to you tomorrow.
Spend some time considering how God is still calling you toward repentance in your life. How is God continuing to move you toward him? Ask a trusted friend how he/she has seen godly growth in your life.
Breath Prayer: LORD God, be our spring of living water.