The First Baptist Church of the Wilderness
Isa 40:1 "Comfort, yes, comfort My people!" Says your God.
2 "Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her, That her warfare is ended, That her iniquity is pardoned; For she has received from the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins."
3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth;
5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
6 The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.
8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."
9 O Zion, You who bring good tidings, Get up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, You who bring good tidings, Lift up your voice with strength, Lift it up, be not afraid; Say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!"
10 Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him.
11 He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.
1Co 4:1 Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover it is required in stewards that one be found faithful.
3 But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself.
4 For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord.
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
Mt 11:2 And when John had heard in prison about the works of Christ, he sent two of his disciples
3 and said to Him, "Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?"
4 Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and tell John the things which you hear and see:
5 "The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.
6 "And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me."
7 As they departed, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?
8 "But what did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Indeed, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses.
9 "But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I say to you, and more than a prophet.
10 "For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way before You.'
And Jesus said, “What brought you to the First Baptist Church of the Wilderness?” “Did you come to hear “trendy preaching?” Was John the type who licked his thumb to tell which way the wind of popular opinion was blowing, and then preach what the people wanted to hear?
Was it the padded pews? Was it the three piece suit John was wearing. Did John preach for the money? Did he have to be careful about what he preached lest he offend the wealthy and the powerful? Hardly. He was in jail because he called Herod on his adulterous act of taking his brother’s wife for his wife.
What brought you to Living Word Lutheran? I hope and pray that you are here in part for the truth! Because it is our intention to declare the truth as found in God’s Word....the Bible. It is our intention to not necessarily preach what is popular and it is our intention to not be swayed by power or money.
Trends come and go. Riches come and go. Power comes and goes, but as Isaiah says, “the Word of God stands forever!” And as Paul stated in our epistle lesson today. As a servant of the most high God, I will be judged by my faithfulness to this Word. not by my popularity, or by the number of three piece suits I own.
When you think about John, the word “comfort” does not come to mind. He was more about disturbing comfort. But then, he preached the law and that’s what the law is all about....disturbing our comfort. Forcing us toi look outside ourselves for our salvation.
So he’s sitting in prison and hearing about all these merciful acts of Jesus and he wants to know where the judgement is. He was expecting this Messiah who would come with “His winnowing fan in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out the threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Mt 3:12)
But John had the same dilemma that all other OT prophets had. Just because he was a prophet, doesn’t mean that he knew the timing of all these events. Peter spoke of this fact concerning prophets in his first letter.
1Pe 1:10 Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, 11 searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.
These prophets knew a period of grace was coming, they knew the glorious Last Day was coming, but they didn’t understand how or when. And Jesus gently rebukes John by asking him not to be offended by delayed judgement. Don’t let the delayed judgement alter the truth that Jesus was indeed the Messiah.
It is a good point for us to remember as well. It’s been over 2000 years and this prophesied judgement has not yet come, we are still in this period of grace. Don’t let the delay minimize your faith. Remember the reason for the delay.
2Pe 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.
We should comfort one another with these words. And continue in the task of the great commission until our Lord returns. This task is found for us in the prophetic words from Isaiah in our OT reading today.
Before we look at these words, let me just say something about this portion of Isaiah. If you ever need comfort from the Word of God, turn to the last part of the Book of Isaiah. Beginning at chapter 40 till the end of the book, you will find beautiful language and visions that speak of blessed salvation through the first and second Advent of our Lord.
I have been reading about a chapter a day from this book for the past several months, and I find myself longing more and more for the second coming of Christ. I didn’t start out reading Isaiah with that goal in mind, but it just comes with the territory, especially as you get to these latter chapters.
Part of my calling as a prophet (a proclaimer of God’s Word) is to proclaim this comfort to you. Part of my calling is to assure you that pardon for your sins has been won at Calvary, and it is yours for the receiving! He who believes and is baptized shall be saved!
The trials and tribulations of this world will soon be over for all those who have put their faith in Christ. These are the words of comfort I must pass on to you. At the same time I must also warn those who reject Christ, that their trials and tribulations are just beginning.
These words from Isaiah speak specifically of John the Baptist who would be the “voice of one crying in the Judean wilderness before the beginning of Jesus’ ministry on earth, but they apply to all of God’s prophet’s for all time, and by prophet, I mean those who like myself “proclaim” this Word!
Let’s first of all talk about the wilderness. Why the wilderness? Why not the temple? Why not a busy street corner in Jerusalem? Because the wilderness in the Bible represents the place where God’s people are to be found.
Why? Because in the wilderness survival only happens by God’s provision. We are saved by grace (God’s provision) alone! Lucky John the Baptist. He was chosen to show us that “spiritual” reality in a physical way and so he lived in the wilderness surviving on locusts and honey.
The spiritual reality is that we must rely solely on God for our salvation, and so the church is found in the wilderness. It’s interesting to read of this in the Book of Revelation.
Re 12:5 She bore a male Child (She being the OT church, the line of Christ being preserved among the OT church (the Jews) and culminating in the birth of Jesus to the Jewish girl Mary.) who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.
6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
Look what all takes place in these two short verses! You have the birth of Christ and His Ascension in verse 5, (The life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in one short verse! And in verse 6 you have a picture of the church (the woman) after the ascension, and where she must be until the Lord returns....in the wilderness, spiritually dependent upon God alone.
The church is fed by the Word of God, “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 4:4) We eat locusts (the Law) and honey (the Gospel) just like John the Baptist did!
And John’s first duty, was to prepare the way of the Lord. So how does a prophet like John prepare the way of the Lord? How is the highway made straight? How are the valleys made level? How are the mountains leveled? How is everything made smooth for the entrance of the Lord into the individual heart? .............................thru brokenness and humility.
God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and it is by grace we are saved through faith and that not of ourselves it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.
And so John’s message was one of repentance, one designed to humble his listeners.
Mt 3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea,
2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!"
3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.'"
And Jesus’ message was also one of repentance,
Mr 1:14 Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel."
John’s basic message, and the message of the church was spelled out for us in this portion of Isaiah. Verse 6 says, “Cry out!” and he said, What shall I cry?” And this was the message he was given to preach.
“All flesh is grass, and all it’s loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever.”
This is to be part one of our message. In so many words the people have to be told that they are nothing but grass. Look at you! Are you getting older or younger every day? Are you withering? Fading? Yes you are. You can’t do a thing about it either. Because you are powerless in that regard. Time marches on, and it tramples some of us harder than others.
Do you see this picture of me? This was taken in 1974. What do you think, weight aside, am I withering or fading? It looks like a lot of both! If you’re looking for the fountain of youth at the local nip and tuck shop....or the health food store, or the gym....you’re looking in the wrong place. Oh, you may be able to slow it down some, but you can’t stop it....because you are grass!
And you better start thinking about the reality of your situation. Start facing the reality of your mortality. The only fountain of youth to be found is found in the Word of God. it is the only thing that “stands forever.”
The fountain of youth, the spring of eternity, is the Word of God! Jesus called it “living water.” And Jesus is willing to ladle it out freely to those who are spiritually thirsty for it. Speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well Jesus said,
Joh 4:13 Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again,
14 "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
And you’ll never appreciate this living water more than when you find yourself in the wilderness!
So John is out in the wilderness and he’s preaching repentance. You can be sure he was preaching the Law! He was preaching from this Word of God that stands forever, and as the people heard this Word they realized that they were but grass and in need of something more permanent.
And so they came to him, confessing their sins in all humility and John washed them away in the waters of baptism.
Mt 3:4 And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 "and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
What are the fruits worthy of repentance? They are humility and utter reliance upon God’s grace. It’s that point when a man realizes that he is nothing but grass and totally dependent upon God for His spiritual needs.
The Pharisees and the Sadducees came out to be washed on the outside, but they were still full of pride, and religion on the inside and John saw right through them. This is still a big problem in the church today, where people use God’s means of grace, (baptism, and the Lord’s Supper) and their outward connection to the church as their basis of salvation.
But they need to be called to task just as John called the Pharisees. Don’t think your baptism or participation in the Lord’s Supper, or your connection to a church will save you from the wrath to come! Bear fruits worthy of repentance! Cast your pride aside and surrender everything into His hands.
He who believes (trusts) and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe (baptized or not) is damned.
John’s message was hard, but it was necessary and preparatory for the Gospel which was spoken loud and clear the day that Jesus came to him to be baptized.
Joh 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
There it is! The Gospel! Get connected to Him and stay connected to Him through baptism and faith and your grass problem will be taken care of. Because your grass problem is a sin problem.
The wages of sin is death, (burned up grass) But behold! The lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world! And so this is the Good News that Zion (the church) is to proclaim from the highest mountain!
“Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!” (V9) (Who takes away the sin of the world!)
But Isaiah has more for us. We are also to talk about the Day of Judgement. We are also to talk about the Second Coming of Christ. Behold! This is the day “when the Lord will return with a strong hand. Behold! His reward (the believers who have already died will be with Him) And His work (of judging the unbelievers will be before Him.)
After that is done, He will feed His gathered flock like a gentle shepherd throughout eternity.
Comfort, yes comfort My people. Tell the church that one day her warfare will be over! In this Advent season, look forward to that Day when the Gentle Shepherd will come again and gather you into His arms.
But remember this comfort is only for those who have been properly humbled and broken. It is for those who realize that without Christ they are nothing but grass. It is only for those who dwell in the wilderness ....the place of utter reliance upon God, it’s where God’s true church will always be found.
Humbly, submit your hope for salvation and eternal life to Him today. Come to the First Baptist Church of the Wilderness. He who trusts and is baptized shall be saved!.