The Silence of God
One thing I could not stand in elementary school was when the teacher just stood silently looking knowingly at the class until everyone was quiet. When the class was loud, she wouldn’t try to yell over us, she was just standing there, arms crossed saying, “I can wait.”
I don’t know if it was intended to feel insulting, but it was… and it worked.
At some point everyone realized that what she had to say was more important than anything we were saying to each other yelling back and forth. Sometimes silence gets our attention better than a megaphone.
At the time of Jesus’ birth, God had not spoken to his people in 300 years. No prophets, no revelations. Just 300 Years of silence. That is not just a long time, that is GENERATIONS of people who did not hear from God. It seemed God had abandoned his people. It is into this silence that John the Baptist steps.
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
3 A voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight!
In this silence, the people of God are made thirsty for the divine word. Was God’s silence his attempt to get the attention of his people in the first century?
How about us? Have we invited so much noise into our lives that God is simply waiting for all of it to reach its empty end? Is God saying, “I can wait.” Has he been silent, trying to get our attention?
What noise needs to be turned down in your life? What noise have you been using to cope, that’s getting you through, that is distracting you from reality, that needs to be turned down so you can hear God again?
Mark is recalling this prophecy to let them know, In Jesus, God is starting to speak again. We are picking the story back up. God is coming and there is someone who is going to make a way.
What happens in the Desert doesn’t stay in the Desert
4 John came baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
His name was John. John the Baptizer. This was not a denominational affiliation. John was not a southern Baptist, an American Baptist, a northern Baptist, or a cooperative Baptist. He was a baptizer. And he came baptizing. He came preparing the way.
5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. 6 John wore a camel-hair garment with a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.
Strange garb, both then and now. But it was an attention grabbing image calling to mind the prophets of Old—In particular one of the most famous-Elijah, who wore goat hair skin.
It was a visual declaration, “Hey!!! God is speaking again, LISTEN UP!”
The locusts, no joke, were a good source of nutrients and were within the Jewish dietary restrictions. And honey, well, who doesn’t love honey? In any case, it was a simple diet. It was a simple wardrobe, it was a simple way of life.
And he came Baptizing in the wilderness, or Desert. Not in the lush hills and the cool shade. The desert…
The bible scholar, William Barclay, recounts that:
Between the centre of Judaea and the Dead Sea lies one of the most terrible deserts in the world. It is a limestone desert; it looks warped and twisted; it shimmers in the haze of the heat; the rock is hot and blistering and sounds hollow to the feet as if there was some vast furnace underneath; it moves out to the Dead Sea and then descends in dreadful and unscalable precipices down to the shore. In the Old Testament it is sometimes called Jeshimmon, which means The Devastation. John was no city-dweller. He was a man from the desert and from its solitudes and its desolations. He was a man who had given himself a chance to hear the voice of God(1).
I want to highlight three things about the desert:
1. The Desert is a place of new beginnings. People in the bible end up there all the time, often in an emotional or spiritual state that reflects their environmental state—dry, empty, void of life. (Exodus 3)
2. The desert is a place where God meets us. God meets us in this desperate place and becomes our single source of life and nourishment. In a way not possible anywhere else, we are forced to experience the faithfulness and reliability of God that transforms our own faith. (Genesis 21)
3. The desert is a place of preparation. Finally, after coming to this place dry, empty, and void of life, and having experienced the life-giving presence of God, we experience preparation for what God has always wanted to do in and through us. We are prepared by our time in the desert for unimaginable and miraculous that stands in front of us (Israelites in the wilderness, Jesus’ temptation, etc.)
Maybe you are in a desert season right now. How could this be a new beginning for you? How have you met God in the midst of this? What might God be using this time to prepare you for, or what growth have you experienced?
Maybe you recently came out of one. How did God meet you there? How did you unique experience his presence and provision? What new beginning came out of this, or what new thing did God prepare you for in your time there?
Maybe you need to accept the desert season that is coming. Maybe you need to let some things die in the desert so that you can be restored and ready for what God has next. Maybe God is preparing a way for you in the wilderness, and you need to go walk it out.Maybe you are in a desert season right now. How could this be a new beginning for you? How have you met God in the midst of this? What might God be using this time to prepare you for? Click To Tweet
It’s not about you
7 He proclaimed, “One who is more powerful than I am is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” — Mark 1:1-8 (CSB)
How easy it would have been for John the Baptist to get distracted. After all, it was only the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem going out to him. How easy to let that inflate his ego, his sense of why he is here—look at all of these people coming to hear ME! Its clearly not because I’m dressed cool or have a great coffee bar and donut holes! It’s not because I have greeters to welcome people, or comfy seats for people to sit in, or cool music playing. I MUST be a great speaker, God must be blessing me, This must be a sign, ya know, like I have at least earned to be above untying sandals, eww gross. I mean, Maybe even Jesus should stoop and untie my sandals? After all, look what I am doing for him????
But no, John has been IN THE DESERT. He has experienced the silence of God. He has been thirsty for God to speak. We don’t know John’s story, but maybe he had a booming preaching ministry in his earlier days that went to his head and got in the way, it became too much noise and he could no longer hear the voice of God.
Whatever has helped him gain his focus, his focus now penetrates all vanity and allure of life to see clearly the role he is made to play in the story of God’s redemption—He is the bulldozer paving the way. He is the red carpet for the king, he is the IV for the transfusion—
One more powerful is coming and I am not even going to pretend like we are in the same league.
To make this image clear, he paints them a picture—untying another’s sandals. It is above me even to get down on my hands and knees before him to remove his sandals—sandals that have been on feet that had trampled through dusty roads covered in animal waste, and had not been washed but by the sweat of his own feet.
Finally, he concludes, I baptize with Water, He with the Holy Spirit.
Baptism was a practice that predated both Christianity and Jesus. In Judaism baptism was a ritual symbol of cleansing and new beginning.
John is saying, “I can provide the symbol of cleansing and new beginning, he will give you the reality of cleansing and new beginning. He doesn’t just point to it, he gives it.
In the baptism of the suffering son of God, you do not only suffer and die with him, but as you come up out of the water you enter new, resurrected, death defeated, abundant, life.
In this baptism of the Spirit, you do not just receive a cup of water to drinks, you receive streams of living water that never run dry.
Does it feel like you are in the desert right now?
What are you going to again and again to quench your thirst, but its never enough?
Its just coping, its just noise, its just distraction and you know deep down you need that stream of cool, crisp clean water that never runs dry?
Are you in a hard season that you feel like running away from?
Are you in a desert that you want to de-sert? It’s just too hard. Will you remember that the suffering son of God is not far off but is in the trenches with you? Is there something God is working in you in this season that you know could produce great fruit in your life, but you are constantly tempted to run, to short circuit the process, to cut off the work before its complete?
Silence is uncomfortable. But we can trust the silence because the comforter comes to us in the silence. I invite you to get uncomfortable long enough to experience the great comforter himself. He will meet you, he will prepare you, and he will set you on a new beginning.