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| Author: Dele Oke

A Voice in the wilderness

Its easy to read through several chapters of the Bible without realizing how many years we are skipping over in the process. Matthew Chapter two ends with Joseph taking abode in the regions of Galilee with baby Jesus. Jesus would not have been more than two years then.

Matthew chapter 3 opens with the ministry of John the Baptist and thirteen verses later Jesus appears on the scene.

There is (approximately) 30 years are between the end of Matthew Chapter two and the beginning of Matthew chapter three. Considering there was no other prophet during this period you can appreciate the "spiritual wilderness" the nation had gone through .

The people were spiritually bankrupt. As if to highlight this truth, John the Baptist comes preaching "in the wilderness" so now we have a spiritual and geographical wilderness.(waste place; state of desolation or confusion)

What's even more amazing is that Matthew chapter 3 starts with a wilderness and by verse 5 we have a city.

"Then Jerusalem all Judea and all the region around the Jordan went our to him" Matthew 3:5".

Do you know its possible to read right through this chapter and not realize the tremendous power of God that is at work.

I doubt if there was more than 14 days between Matthew 3:1 and Matthew 3:5. It only took days for God's word to turn (about) 30 years of wilderness into inhabited cities of hope.

A word from God can turn your wilderness around. If we knew the tremendous power that God's word can have when received into our hearts we would find it less of burden to spend time in his presence.

John had spent time getting God's word into his heart before breaking out into his ministry (Luke 1:80). Notice that John's ministry was referred to as the "voice" (verse 3).

There is no doubt that God was speaking His Word to the people through John. God's Word has the anointing to turn a wilderness into an inhabited city.

To appreciate the "voice" of John's ministry more we would need to take little look at his background

Luke 1:5-8 In the time of Herod king of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly division of Abijah; his wife Elizabeth was also a descendant of Aaron. 6 Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord's commandments and regulations blamelessly. 7 But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well on in years. 8 Once when Zechariah's division was on duty and he was serving as priest before God, (NIV)

Luke 1:11-13 Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. 12 When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. 13 But the angel said to him: "Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. (NIV)

Luke 1:18-20 Zechariah asked the angel, "How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years." 19 The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." (NIV)

We are told that John's parents were righteous before God, obeying all commandments and blameless. Yet they wre without child (verse 6-7). Its apparent that they had been praying for one (verse 13). This is a good indication that not all unanswered prayer is due to sin. And I doubt if you could accuse this couple of lacking faith either.

Even though they were well advanced in age (verse 7) they persisted in prayer to God about their child (verse 13). They were constantly lifting their voices up to God. I wonder if Zechariah and Elizabeth ever shared their experience (of waiting and praying for a child) with John when he was finally born. I'm sure they must have. This testimony must have had a place in shaping John's ministry.

When angel Gabriel eventually brought news of John's impending birth to Zechariah the old man doubted. Could you blame him after such a long wait, surely his faith must have started to wane.

Gabriel's decision to render Zechariah mute in response to his unbelief seems stern (Luke 1:20). Surely Zechariah should have been given some allowance for doubt.

We can understand Gabriel's actions more by considering his words to Zechariah

Luke 1:19-20 The angel answered, "I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. 20 And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time." (NIV)

In effect Gabriel was saying "I stand in the very presence of God, you can't afford to doubt my words. Even more, its dangerous to speak against them. You shall have to be mute until these things come to pass. I can't afford to allow your doubt to cause you to speak against God's word".

Gabriel rendered Zechariah mute not in punishment for his unbelief but rather to prevent his unbelief from speaking against God's will. Words are powerful. Zechariah learnt this the hard way.

John the Baptist must have been told all this by his parents. Like the angel Gabriel, he also would have spent time in the presence of God (in prayer and study of the word) When he eventually emerged in the wilderness his voice was the the voice of God speaking in the wilderness. His voice filled people's heart with hope and joy.

His voice caused a wilderness to vanish.

We also can receive God's word into our heart and speak it into the heart of others. Spend time in the word of God and watch wilderness turn into cities of hope. God's written word is no less powerful than the spoken word. As you read his word over the coming months, hold unto it in faith. Not doubting it nor speaking against it.

You can't afford to