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 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.

||40days|| week one: a journey

Today we begin a journey. A forty day journey to the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It is a journey that mirrors the forty days when rain fell on the earth to purge it from sin and injustice, while Noah and his family were saved in the ark (Genesis 7:12).

It is a journey that recalls us to the forty years when the people of Israel wandered in the desert because of their disobedience and distrust of God (Deuteronomy 29:5).

It is a journey that returns us to the forty days when Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness to be tested and tried by the evil one in preparation for His ministry (Mark 1:13).

In this ||40days|| journey, we are preparing ourselves for the joys of Easter by having a deeper experience of the Cross. Like Noah, it is a time of rescue from sin. Like Israel, it is a time of purification from wrongs. Like Jesus, it is a time to come back to the word of God and resist the evil one.

Traditionally, this journey is called Lent, and begins today on Ash Wednesday. Traditional Lenten disciplines are fasting, prayer, and giving. Thus, we can see the movement from abstaining from something (fasting), turning to God (prayer), and putting another discipline in its place (giving). That being said, there are all sorts of ways that we can enter into this journey to the Cross of Christ.

Will you take the ||40days|| journey?