A Call to the Wilderness: What We Need to Hear from John the Baptist Today

John the Baptist’s preaching and baptisms occurred in the wilderness of Judea at the Jordan River near the Spring near Salim (John 3:23).

The wilderness was an evocative place in the imagination of the Jewish people. It likely brought immediate memory of the Exodus. The wilderness was both the place between slavery and promise, but also the place where an entire generation died off because of disobedience to God.

Simultaneously, the wilderness was rich in imagery from the prophets. Again and again, the prophets called the people back to the wilderness for a transforming encounter with God. The wilderness was the place of turning from self to God and stripping away of false gods. The wilderness was the place of judgment, purification, and renewal.

The prophet Jeremiah, speaking on brink of Israel’s catastrophic failure and exile, offers these strong words from the Lord:

“This is what the Lord says:
‘I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest.’” (Jeremiah 2:2-3)

The prophet Hosea, whose very life and message portrayed God’s desire for dedicated love relationship with His people, relates God’s longing to bring the Israelites to the wilderness for a sacred encounter with Him:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
    I will lead her into the wilderness
    and speak tenderly to her.
There I will give her back her vineyards,
    and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
    as in the day she came up out of Egypt.” (Hosea 2:14-15)

And so, when John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, he calls people into a radical encounter with God. It is a call to turn from the self and turn to God. It is a call to be stripped of false gods and false self and to face reality. It is a call to judgment, purification, and renewal with God.

In these days, I cannot help but wonder if the people of God must once again enter the wilderness. Could it be that we have forsaken our first love, turned aside to other gods, and must be led away from our captivity into the place of judgment, purification, and renewal with God? May God give us grace to hear what the Holy Spirit is speaking to the church in this hour.

The Threshing Floor: a word from an early church leader

While studying for my message at Eastbrook from this past weekend, “The Voice of One Calling Out,” I came across these words by an anonymous church father from homily 3 of an incomplete work on Matthew that I found both illuminating and challenging. They are a commentary on the final words from John the Baptist’s message in Matthew 3:12: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The threshing floor is the church, the barn is the kingdom of heaven, and the field is the world. Therefore, like the head of the household who sends out reapers to mow down the stalks in the field and bring them to the threshing floor that he may thresh and winnow them there and separate the wheat from the chaff, the Lord sends out his apostles and other teachers as reapers. He will cut down all the people in the world and gather them onto the threshing floor of the church, where we are to be threshed at one point and then winnowed.

As the grain of wheat enclosed in the chaff cannot escaped unless it has been threshed, so too it is hard for one to escape worldly encumbrances and carnal affairs while one is enclosed in the chaff, unless one has been shaken by some hardship. Note that once the full grain has been slightly shaken it sheds its chaff. If it is flimsy, it takes longer to escape. If it is empty, it never emerges but is ground in in its chaff and then thrown out with the chaff. In this way, all who take delight in carnal things will be like the grain and the chaff. But one who is faithful and has a good heart, once he experiences adversity, disregards those things that are carnal and hastens to God. If he has been somewhat unfaithful, however, only with great difficulty will he go back to God. As for him who is unfaithful and empty, though he may be sorry of his circumstances, like empty grain he will emerge from the chaff—he will never leave carnal things or worldly encumbrances behind, nor will he go over to God. Rather, he will be ground up with the things that are evil and thus be cast out with the unfaithful like the chaff.

[Anonymous, Incomplete work on Matthew, Homily 3, from Manlio Simonetti, ed., Matthew 1-13, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture 1a (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 48.]

The Voice of One Calling Out

This past weekend we continued our series “Power in Preparation” at Eastbrook Church by looking at the appearance of John the Baptist near the Jordan from Matthew 3:1-12 and how this sets the stage for Jesus. John is an extraordinary character in the gospels, whose life and preaching is incredibly challenging.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’”  (Matthew 3:1-2)

John the Baptist (Matthew 3:1-4)

  • Repentance
  • The kingdom of heaven
  • The voice (Isaiah 40:3)
  • The prophet (2 Kings 1:8)

The Wilderness (Matthew 3:1, 5-6)

  • Old Testament backgrounds: Jeremiah 2:2-3; Hosea 2:14-15; Ezekiel 20:35-38
  • Turning from self to God
  • Stripping and judgment
  • Purification and renewal

Brood of Vipers (Matthew 3:7-10)

  • Pharisees and Sadducees
  • Fruit in keeping with repentance
  • True children of Abraham
  • The tree about to be cut down

The One to Come (Matthew 3:11-12)

  • More powerful and even greater
  • A baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the life and ministry of John the Baptist in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize John’s message in Matthew 3:2
  • Set aside some time this week to read Matthew 3:1-12 again. Then write, draw, paint, or pray aloud your own response to this series of events in Jesus’ life.
  • Read more about John’s life in the following passages:
  • Luke 1:5-25, 39-80
  • Luke 3:1-20
  • John 1:6-8, 19-34
  • John 3:22-36
  • Matthew 11:1-19
  • Matthew 14:1-12
  • Mark 6:14-29
  • Matthew 17:11-13; 21:32
  • Explore Bible maps related to the life and ministry of John the Baptist here.

Habakkuk [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App SquareLike many other churches, this past weekend at Eastbrook we had to make a major shift in our gathering due to the concerns related to COVID-19 and coronavirus. This was accentuated by the declaration of a public health emergency in our state, and the recommendation that groups over 250 no longer meet. We switched to online service for this past weekend, but still continued our series on the message of the minor prophets, “God in the Ruins,” by looking at the prophet Habakkuk.

Habakkuk is one of the 7th century BC prophets in the Hebrew Bible, ministering near the time of Nahum, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah. Habakkuk’s prophetic message is gathered into book form in the following structure:

  • Habakkuk’s first complaint and God’s answer (1:1-11)
  • Habakkuk’s second complaint and God’s answer (1:12-2:20)
  • a final prayer of trust and worship (3:1-19)

You can view the message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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Nahum [God in the Ruins]

God in the Ruins Series GFX_App Square

This past weekend at Eastbrook I continued our series on the message of the minor prophets, “God in the Ruins,” by looking at the prophet Nahum.

Nahum is one of those books that can feel especially “minor” in the minor prophets, with a tough message for a very historically specific context. Nahum is one of the 7th century BC prophets in the Hebrew Bible, including Habakkuk, Zephaniah, and Jeremiah. The book basically falls into two major sections with chapter 1 focusing on God as judge and chapters 2-3 focusing on the judgment God will bring on Nineveh.

You can view the message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series on the minor prophets here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities to connect.

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