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.

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Amos

Almighty God,
who can stand before You
without feeling some level
of smallness, fear, and failing?
Have mercy on us
in spite of our wrongs,
and bring Your forgiveness
over our sins, both known and unknown.
Save us from false religion,
from the bustling of activity
that has lost its center in You
and fails to reflect who You are.
You are a God of righteousness
and justice in Your character and activity.
Shape us, Your people, to be like You
so that justice might roll on like a river
and righteousness like a never-failing stream
in and through us, O God.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Joel

To you, Lord, we call,
seeing the challenges in the world around us
as the nations rage
and the challenges within us
as our souls often rage.
We turn to You, Lord,
not with outward shows,
like rending of garments,
but with the humility
of broken and contrite hearts.

We turn to You, Lord,
because we have heard
that You are gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and One who relents from sending calamity.

May Your Holy Spirit come upon us freshly,
that both men and women,
young and old,
might be saved and healed,
strengthened and sustained.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.

Great Prayers of the Bible

This coming weekend at Eastbrook Church we begin a teaching series entitled “Great Prayers of the Bible.” This series accompanies our Summer of Prayer at Eastbrook by examining great prayers from both the Old and New Testament so that we might grow in our life of prayer, individually and corporately.

Our life with God is shaped by the way we pray. Prayer is the basic communication with God in speaking and listening that is as essential as air, food and water to our biological life. Prayer is simple in the sense that every human being feels the pull to communicate with the divine, often whispering or shouting prayers unbidden. At the same time, prayer is complicated because we often don’t know how to approach God or what is okay to do.

In this series, we will spend the summer learning to pray through the examples of great prayers found throughout the Bible.

June 2/3 – “Prayer that Pleads for the Lost: Abraham” (Genesis 18:16-33)

June 9/10 – “Prayer that Intercedes for God’s People: Moses” (Numbers 14:1-23)

June 16/17 – “Prayer for Our Desires: Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10-20; 2:1-10)

June 23/24 – “Prayer of Repentance: David (2 Samuel 12:15-23; Psalm 51)

June 30/July 1 – “Prayer that Listens: Elijah” (1 Kings 19:1-18)

July 7/8 – “Prayer for Deliverance: Hezekiah” (2 Kings 19:14-20; 20:1-7)

July 14/15 – “Prayer of Dependence: Habakkuk” (Habakkuk 3:1-21)

July 21/22  – “Prayer of Renewal: Daniel” (Daniel 9:3-19)

July 29 – “Prayer of Dedication: Nehemiah” (Nehemiah 1:4-11)

August 5 – “Prayer of Surrender: Mary” (Luke 2:46-56)

August 11/12 – “Prayer in Weakness: a father of an afflicted boy” (Mark 9:22-25)

August 18/19 – “Prayer as Mission: The Early Church in Acts” (Acts 1:24-25; 4:23-31; 7:60; 13:1-3)

August 25/26 – “Prayer as Worship: Revelation” (Revelation 11:15-19; 15:1-4; 16:5-7)