But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”
~ Luke 1:13-18
Prepared to Prepare
In recent weeks since the inaugural Jesus Fields summer gathering, I believe that God has spoken to us in a very powerful way that is both live and current but also confirming and interpretive of older burdens (see Matthew 13:52).
When God speaks like this, we do well to listen carefully and reflectively rather than knee-jerking into setting up shelters for our Moses and Elijahs, even though that might seem like a good idea at the time (Matthew 17:1-5). In this moment of transfiguration, Peter, James and John represent our own preference of the excitement, edification and comfort of His voice in passing moments of prophetic power to our long-term obedience, (over months and years), in response. We often can’t handle it when God does move. We’re unprepared vessels. God knows this which is often why He doesn’t move at all. He sees our penchant with highly-predictable church service structure over His churning heart and the breaking out of His Spirit. He turns away.
Even so, He has spoken, He is speaking and He will speak. Ergo, there remains for us a deeper invitation into wilderness listening separated from the paralysis and schizophrenia of denomination, run-of-the-mill and ‘business as usual’.
This is a kingdom invite. This is a kingdom word. Company men don’t hear it and they certainly don’t (yet) follow.
Jesus is the King of the kingdom and He is decreeing. He is preparing us to be those who are trained and qualified in the kingdom in order to prepare others for the kingdom (Matthew 13:52). Many others. The kingdom of heaven, John thunders, is at hand and yet is forcefully advancing. (Matthew 11:12 cf. Isaiah 61). Shouldn’t we be repenting and interceding as a central part of our ‘laying hold’? Isn’t the prophetic message, mantle and power first outworked within the lives of the prophets who will lead?
What did Paul once say to Timothy after using soldiers, athletes and farmers as metaphors for something infinitely more epic?
Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Tim. 2:7)
Why John the Baptist?
I believe that the emphasis of God’s heart for us* at this time is preparation. Not the tedious preparation of packing a bunch of bags before a holiday (a necessary practicality to be tolerated towards something enjoyable) but the exhilaration of love-sick preparation leading towards a wedding day (the giddy period of engagement before the fuller consummation of ecstasy – Ephesians 1:13 cf. Ephesians 3:16). We can show off our engagement rings to all and sundry, even ourselves, but we better get ready for our wedding day!
It’s this type of preparation that John’s gospel records,
The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. (John 3:29)
John the Baptist had been earmarked. His assignment was to spend 20 years of preparation in the wilderness for 6 months of public ministry. In a crushing world of spiritual darkness, he was a bright and shining lamp providing witness to the eternal Light of heaven (John 1:8). John was called specifically by name, filled by the Spirit before birth and publicly announced to be a fulfilment of Isaiah 40:3 – a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’. (Jesus, of course, would then go on to publicly fulfil Isaiah 61 in Luke 4).
But don’t we prefer the thought of 6 months of preparation for 20 years of ministry?
When mortgages, families, babies, pensions, employments and lifestyles are all demanded by this upward call to holy, Jesus-anouncing consecration, we easily forget – or even forsake – the privilege that we’re invited to listen to His wilderness voice. Many an idol is fashioned from the blessing of children, family, ‘church’ calendars, excessive leisure and five-year plans.
Today, against our current backdrop of spiritual farce, what if we’re being prepared in order to prepare a sleeping generation? What if we’re currently unable to properly steward a nation so He first has to prepare us by commanding us into the wilderness?
It won’t be a three-year BA in anything we’ve ever seen before, of that I’m sure. Jesus returned from His own wilderness sojourn in the full power of the Spirit. Even Christ had been tested. He wasn’t found wanting in any respect. But, rather, He returned hungry for the things of His Father – for the glory of His name.
We’re not there yet.
FOMO & The Threat of Fake Legalism
John the Baptist (not the gospel writer also called John) was only interested in one thing – beholding Jesus, proclaiming Him and preparing the way for His appearing. He thundered this specifically via a scolding-hot and unrelenting message of repentance. This was his life. He was full-time and ‘all-in’. This generation may see Him, but do they behold Him? (The NIV drops the ball in John 1:29 for me – looking at Jesus and beholding Jesus are two very different things – cf. ESV).
And yet we don’t think of him as being legalistic, do we? We think of him as being awesome and Jesus certainly commended him above most,
Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (Matthew 11:11)
As Jesus says, each of us in the kingdom, post Cavalry, are – as shocking as the blood is – greater than John the baptiser. However, one of the main problems with the Church today, (and more so in younger generations), is that the notion of harder-core spiritual disciplines, self-control, lifestyle-review and even self-denial is almost immediately tarnished with the “legalism” brush.
That old chestnut.
There are wrong motives for sure, wrong cultures and wrong structures, but, driven by eternity, the elementary born-again-impulse to live is Christ and die is gain, the very first understandings of what it means for Him to be Lord, are often swamped today by the cautionary fables of legalism. It often goes like this:
“Sad this. I say this with respect. Who’s to say that revival has to involve knees and tears? Can’t find that in the bible to be honest. This is a generation that finds its way to express its passion for God and if that doesn’t look like my generation I don’t care. Revival doesn’t have s blueprint if knees and tears it looks different in every generation and if this generation finds it in the passion of a noisy mosh pit then good for them“
This comment above was sent through to me yesterday by a young man in response to this tweet,
The failure to discern between life-sapping legalism and life-giving zeal has rendered most of the UK Church lukewarm and, frankly, like one of Luther’s appalling farts fired off in the direction of Rome.
We shouldn’t dismiss fasting, prayer, lifestyle/financial/relationship review as the chain and ball of legalism when it’s clear from Scripture that life-defining discipline is essential to fruitful mission. This is a central part of our Ephesians-6 “stand” and, regardless of how many followers you have on Instagram, or how many delegates you have in your conferences, or how many bouncy castles and LEDs you provide, you’re failing as a Christian leader if you’re not instilling this into your people.
But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I should myself be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27)
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14)
We should rightly have a FOMO when we allow current cultural norms to shape our spirituality more than the Word and Spirit of God.
Why the Wilderness?
So, there is an invitation of old into the wilderness, but it is not for the faint-hearted or for the masses. We need to come out from that which is mainstream, normal and powerless while loving that which we’re set apart from. Why? Because we are deeply engaged in a spiralling spiritual war that we see played out on our TVs every single day and something clearly needs to change. (The abysmal bombing of primary school children from Yemen is the most recent example that springs to mind of this spiritual conflict).
When Paul was floored on the road to Damascus, after recovering his sight, he deliberately went to Arabia for several years and not back to the Church in Jerusalem to hang with Peter, James and John. Paul was set apart and used of God as something like a John the Baptist figure to go ahead and prepare a new way where all people from all tribes and all tongues gained access into the kingdom of the Messiah by the blood of his perfect sacrifice. Paul was essentially the first “John the Baptist” of the kingdom, in the very same lineage as Elijah et al.
But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas… (Galatians 1:15-18).
The main point about this is that we might well be finding ourselves living at a point in history – a short step ahead of Jesus’ soon return – in which a re-realised, radical messianic eschatology is now required as the modus operandi of Christian discipleship. All else (every denominational weakness, bias, skewed theology, deficient theology, demonic theology) is going to be increasingly exposed (Ephesians 5:11).
A call to repentance is coming, no, is already at the door.
Jesus is repeatedly commanding into the wilderness those who have ears to hear. He is imparting in us a supernatural urgency that will confound those who aren’t really interested in His Lordship or His soon return…and may never be.
Remember, regardless of the year, regardless of whichever pagan god is demanding worship, whichever Roman authority is enchanted by the spirit of political correctness, whichever region or king or president or prime minister or church ‘leader’ is prevalent, it was the Word of God that came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
May we be willing to run to the wilderness. May we be willing to explore what this means.
And may we be willing to be prepared by Him in order that we might be ready to prepare for Him.
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.
~ Luke 3:1-2
[p.s Next week we’re releasing the first part of The Bothy Sessions via Counterfeit Vlog while this blog post will continue with John the Baptist and will be called The Dissolution of Denomination]
*Us – in the sense of an emerging, uncompromised, undivided, remnant Church