Today, we continue our study of the gospel according to Mark. In Mark 1:3-5, we read, "3 a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River."
Notice that in v.3, John the Baptist was in the wilderness? Why the wilderness? The wilderness is a dreary, desolate, lonely place. The people of Judea willingly left their cities, traveled through the wilderness twenty or so miles just to listen to John the Baptist preach.
The wilderness creates thirst. Thirst for God is good! In fact, we are at our best when we are most thirsty for God. Psalm 42:1-2 reads, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God; When shall I come and appear before God." We do not find ourselves seeking God without a measure of thirst.
The late Mike Yaconelli once wrote, "Jesus cares more about desire than about competence." The Lord Jesus knows us better than we do ourselves. We constantly are driven to think that we are the secret to our success, when in reality, we are not. He knows that we are not all that competent. Oh, He knows that we have skills and talents which He gave us. But He knows that we are without strength when it comes to addressing the real issues in our lives. And, as a result, thirst must be created in us for Him, for He is the answer.
In Mark 1:2-3, Mark quotes two Old Testament prophets, though he names only one. In v.2 Mark quotes Malachi. Then in v.3, he quotes Isaiah. Mark is stressing what Isaiah said by quoting Malachi. God knew that a step of preparation had to be made in the hearts of unregenerate people before they could come to Him. Even now, God has to create thirst in us before we come to Him, even though we have been "born again". So, John the Baptist was sent before the Lord to prepare the way for Him.
The wilderness is no place to start a ministry to reach a lot of people. But God seldom listens to Public Relations firms. So, John began his ministry in the wilderness, the worst possible place. But it worked! God chose the wilderness because it is a symbol. The wilderness is a picture of our parched, empty, and barren souls. The wilderness is a picture of mankind's desperation. It has been well said by many down through the years, "Desperate people do desperate things."
Think of the day you turned to the Lord. Were you not desperate? I know I was! I was three days away from my dad's death. And since my mother died when I was five years old, I realized, as a seventeen year old, I needed help. My desperation equipped me to find Him. My wilderness is now my friend, even though I am know, at times, I resist His compulsions.
The greatest blessing a person can experience is to have his sins forgiven. Forgiveness is what these people who went out to hear John the Baptist in the wilderness were looking for, and this is what they found as they streamed out of Jerusalem to listen. They found forgiveness of sins, and it came by way of turning away from their barren and empty lives to God's life. It came as they chose to listen to their own wilderness within that led them to a personal relationship with God.
The Hebrew word translated "wilderness" in the Old Testament, comes from a root word that means "to speak." One common understanding of this connection is that the wilderness is where we go to hear the voice of God. When we are not quite so confident, when our lives are not turning out the way we thought, when sudden change brings us into turmoil, there, God is to be found. In tough times, we are made desperate for God with an intensity that’s missing in good times. The wilderness inspires, the wilderness inspires quiet, alert attention. And, God has been known to speak in and through the wilderness. We must make it a habit to listen intently. And, when we do so, we will find God.