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
When we talk about “a voice in the wilderness,” we mean someone who is alone in expressing a particular opinion, although later it becomes obvious that the person was right.
How different things might have been if financial experts had foreseen the economic collapse in the U.S. and in other parts of the world in 2008. Out-of- control mortgage lending and other bad economic policies put everything on a crash course. In retrospect, many people could have predicted it, but naiveté, wishful thinking, and self-interest meant there were few warnings. Financial commentator Peter Schiff, however, warned about economic dangers for many months. In an interview in August 2006, he said: “The United States is like the Titanic, and I am here with the lifeboat trying to get people to leave the ship… I see a real financial crisis coming for the United States.”
But he was a voice in the wilderness, and people tend not to believe the contrarian voice.
At a decisive moment, just before Jesus’ introduction, John the Baptist was preaching in the wilderness of Judea. He looked like an Old Testament prophet, warning people to repent and heralding that God was going to start ruling in the world in a whole new way. John the Baptist’s role as “a voice of one calling in the wilderness” was predicted by the prophet Isaiah: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him’” (Luke 3:4).
“God’s kingdom is coming” is a great message. Everyone wanted that, though most thought it just meant that a new, strong Jewish political leader would kick the Romans out of Israel. No one was prepared for the radical life and message of Jesus.
Why “repent”? The word means to turn around or to have a decisive change of mind. John was saying: “Get ready to think of things in a whole new way. Stop bragging about how special you are, but how sinful and needy. Open your minds and hearts. The decisive moment is upon us.”
John’s prediction came true right then, and each of us needs to see the “decisive moment” when it is upon us.
PONDER: We are all very hesitant to change our minds. Is there some way in which you think God is challenging you to think about life in a whole new way?
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• A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS •
Who comes to mind when you think of a modern-day voice in the wilderness?
Gary Haugen is the founder and director of International Justice Mission. Gary left a promising career with the United States Justice Department in 1997 to begin a faith-based organization seeking to bring justice into broken legal systems around the world. Haugen believes that the biggest problem in the world today is not too little democracy, or too much poverty, but an absence of proper justice systems.
IJM has grown from a small startup nonprofit in 1997 to a huge organization in 2014 with hundreds of Christian lawyers, criminal investigators, social workers, and advocates placed in offices in 20 cities around the world. IJM’s work focuses on places with dysfunctional justice systems—abusive police, entrenched bribery, and mismanaged courts. IJM’s mission is to partner with local authorities to rescue victims, bring criminals to justice, restore survivors, and strengthen justice systems. IJM’s lawyers advocate for individuals in need such as bonded laborers and children sold into prostitution. In 2013 alone, 3,555 children, women, and men were brought to safety. Lives have been changed and broken systems repaired, proving that justice for the poor is possible.
IJM believes everyone deserves to be safe. Haugen states, “In places where we were once met with apathy and broken systems, local governments are now not only willing to work with us, but are responding proactively to violence against the poorest—from initiating cases in India and the Philippines, to requesting additional training and support in Guatemala and Uganda to ensure their courts and law enforcement are serving the poor. These are the kinds of changes that will make the most vulnerable people safe from violence far beyond our direct assistance. These are the kinds of changes that will impact history.”
(Gary’s latest book, The Locust Effect: : Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence, is much acclaimed.)
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John was a voice in the wilderness telling others to change their ways. Anyone who preaches the Good News of Christ is also a voice in the wilderness. There are many people who refuse to listen to the message of the kingdom. Our faith can make us outsiders to a world unwilling to listen to the truth. But even if our message falls on deaf ears, that does not change our call to continue to expand God’s kingdom.
Read Matthew 3:1-2. What was John trying to tell the people? What message are we to bring to those who don’t know Jesus? Read John 3:16. What are some ways your family can share this message with others this week?