Fortunately for us, God feels absolutely no compulsion to do things the way we think He should. When He wants to call the nation of Israel back to Him, he raises up a fiery, rugged prophet named John. John is not PC, doesn’t dress well and has a questionable diet. I think it’s fair to say he’s not the man that we would choose for the job.
But there’s another problem. God is planning to hold this nation-wide revival in the wilderness. That’s right the wilderness—as in the place that is basically uninhabitable (except for those willing to wear camel-hair and eat locusts). This seems to have “bad idea” written all over it. After all, if you’re trying to reach people you generally go to them rather than make them come to you. Jerusalem is the population center, there are many important people there and the nation already has a history of gathering there a few times a year. It seems like a no-brainer, right? Nonetheless, there is the man we wouldn’t choose, in the place we wouldn’t choose.
And all Israel goes out to hear him.
To say that we didn’t see that coming is an understatement. But with the benefit of hindsight, there are a few things we can piece together. For example, having a man like John who is essentially unattached to everyone means that he can speak the unvarnished truth without being worried about any of the consequences that might arise. Furthermore, it’s clear from what transpires that John has the character necessary to do that so it looks like God knew what He was doing after all.
The wilderness turns out to be a good choice as well. There is plenty of water for the thousands who respond and are baptized (John 3:23; Luke 7:29-30). Perhaps more to the point, the starkness and isolation of the wilderness lend themselves to producing the penitence God is seeking. Away from the city, their homes, and their comforts, the wilderness helps them come face-to-face with their need to come back to God and prepare for the coming Messiah.
We experience the same kind of thing when we attend a funeral, visit the hospital or find someone we know in the obituaries. Even if it is just for a moment, the tenuousness of our existence is exposed, we realize how transitory life is and how powerless we are. The rawness of such wilderness moments clears the clutter away from our lives and has the potential of producing some very real and profitable moments with God.
When God speaks to us from the wilderness it’s always a good idea to listen.