The Journey by Dr. Abidan Shah

The Journey.jpg

JOURNEY by Dr. Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

Introduction:  About 11 years ago, Nicole and I took our kids on a long journey across the country. We went to all the major Old West sites in Kansas, Colorado, Utah, and Arizona. We even went to Monument Valley, Utah, in the Navajo Nation Reservation. This is one of those iconic places where a lot of the Old Westerns were filmed. We had a wonderful time! There was a hotel near the Park but it was very expensive and so I decided to drive a little further. This was Highway 163 with nothing on the left or the right and it was dark. To make matters worse, we hadn’t eaten any dinner, the kids were really hungry, and we were low on gas. Talk about being afraid. I remember praying that God would get us out of this. Everyone was turning on me. I felt a little of how Moses must have felt. Thirty miles later, we came to a place called Kayenta, where the Burger King was still open. What a relief! What we didn’t realize is that inside the restaurant was the world’s best exhibit to the Navajo Code Talkers from World War 2. There was a movie about them a few years. Plus, we also found a good place to stay overnight. Needless to say, I was really grateful! Main point: Life is a journey full of choices. Unfortunately, poor choices can lead to years of regret and pain. But, God can use even our failures to work all things together for good if we let him.

Deuteronomy 1:41 “Then you answered and said to me, ‘We have sinned against the LORD; we will go up and fight, just as the LORD our God commanded us.’

Context: On the surface, these words seem to be words of repentance and renewal, very sincere and inspiring. Unfortunately, the context proves otherwise. Moses is recalling what took place at Kadesh Barnea in Numbers 13 & 14, where the people had rejected God’s command to go in and possess the Promised Land. Ten of the twelve spies had brought back a negative report that the land was indeed flowing with milk and honey but the inhabitants were strong, the cities were fortified, and there were even giants there. What was the response of the people? They lifted up their voices and cried and wept all night! They complained against Moses and Aaron saying, Numbers 14     2 “…If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why has the LORD brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” They actually began to talk about picking a leader and going back to Egypt! How sad and shameful! When Joshua tried to persuade and motivate them, they wanted to stone them all! What was God’s response? He wanted to destroy them and make a new nation through Moses. I would’ve taken God up on it! Moses actually talked God out of killing his people Israel. He begged God to forgive them. God agreed and pardoned them, but he declared, Numbers 14     22 “because all these men who have seen My glory and the signs which I did in Egypt and in the wilderness, and have put Me to the test now these ten times, and have not heeded My voice, 23 they certainly shall not see the land of which I swore to their fathers…” What is the next step? Verse 25 “…tomorrow turn and move out into the wilderness by the Way of the Red Sea.” Why? 30 “…you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. 31 But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. 32 But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness.”

  1. The Repercussion of disobedience

Principle: God’s forgiveness does not erase the consequences of sins in this life. Someone may say: “What’s the use of God’s forgiveness if there are still consequences?” To erase consequences would be to erase God’s standard of holiness. If God did that, he would no longer be God. Because of his forgiveness, you are no longer his enemy. Now, he is showing you mercy without compromising his holiness.

Application: Do you take sin seriously? Do you understand that you can be forgiven but there are still consequences in this life? Have you ever received Christ as your Savior? Romans 5:10 “For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”

  1. The Regrouping of false repentance

Instead of accepting God’s verdict, the people decide to bum rush their way into the Promised Land – Numbers 14: 40 And they rose early in the morning and went up to the top of the mountain, saying, “Here we are, and we will go up to the place which the LORD has promised, for we have sinned!” Moses warned them not to go because God was not with them. Nevertheless, they rushed up the mountain. I love Moses’ recollection in Deuteronomy 1:44 “And the Amorites who dwelt in that mountain came out against you and chased you as bees do, and drove you back from Seir to Hormah.” There’s a play on words here. This was supposed to be “a land flowing with milk and honey.” (Exodus 3:8) If they had gone in as obedient children, they would have gotten the honey. Since they still had the slave mentality, they went in but got the stinger.

Principle: We cannot speed up God’s work of sanctification in our lives. He will not give us what we are not ready to handle.

Application: Is there something that you have been asking God for and it has not been coming? Trust God that he knows you better than you know yourself. He will not give it to you before you are ready for it.

  1. The Rerouting of discipline

Deuteronomy 1:46 “So you remained in Kadesh many days, according to the days that you spent there.” Numbers 14:34 clarifies this – “According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for each day you shall bear your guilt one year, namely forty years, and you shall know My rejection.” We don’t know for sure how long they were at Kadesh Barnea, but they then moved south and started going in circles. Deuteronomy 2:1“Then we turned and journeyed into the wilderness of the Way of the Red Sea, as the LORD spoke to me, and we skirted Mount Seir for many days.” Their entire time in the wilderness was 40 years, but it was about 38 years since the first entry and failure. I did some math and that’s about 13,880 days. One scholar (Daniel Block) called it a “classic understatement.”They could have done something about this: 1. They could have returned back to Egypt; 2. They could have dispersed as a people; 3. They could have gone back to foreign gods. Some did at times but not wholesale. Instead, they chose to stay as a people and take the discipline of God. They had to die one by one and their children had to do their funerals. Based on the census of Numbers 2 and 26, about 2 million of the people died in those 40 years!

Application: How do you handle the discipline of God? Hebrews 12     5 “…My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; 6For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” 7 If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” People ask me – “How do I know when I am being disciplined?” Don’t think of discipline as punishment. For a believer, all our punishment was exhausted upon Christ. Discipline is when God uses trials and predicaments in life to bring us to trust and obey him more. We go through times of disappointment, unpleasant situations, relationship breakdowns, loss of peace and joy, sickness, and sometimes, even death. Don’t see them as punishment but as discipline. Even Moses had to endure discipline. He talks about it in Deuteronomy 1:37 “The LORD was also angry with me for your sakes, saying, “Even you shall not go in there.”

  1. The Reentry by God’s grace

Deuteronomy 2       2 “And the LORD spoke to me, saying: 3 ‘You have skirted this mountain long enough; turn northward.’”

The last of the older generation just died and it is time to move forward. By the way, the entire time has not been a waste. Some significant things have happened. God has laid out more of his plan for how the tabernacle and the sacrifices are to be laid out. Now, it was time to reenter the Promised Land, but this time, it was not from Kadesh Barnea but the east side of the Jordan River. They are to pass through the territories of the Edomites, Moabites, and the Ammonites. I don’t have time to go through all the details of this journey. Bottom line: they are to walk through respectfully and peacefully. God even took care of the giants beforehand in the territories that they were passing through. Various Amorite kings came against Israel but God routed them and gave his people their possessions. In the midst of all this, there is an episode where God’s people (the new generation) once again began to complain against God and Moses. So, God sent fiery serpents into the camp and many died. Listen to Numbers 21     7 “So Moses prayed for the people. 8 Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live.’” This was a pre-figure of the cross of Jesus. Listen to John 3    14 “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Why a snake! 2 Corinthians 5:21 “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

Finally, how I could forget Rahab, the madam from who protected the 2 spies that Joshua sent to check out Jericho. She was saved and became part of the genealogy of King David and Christ. Can we not declare with Paul in Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

Invitation: How do you see your life’s journey? Which stage are you in? Repercussion, Regrouping, Rerouting, or Reentry. Are you saved? Is Christ in your journey?

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT

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HOW TO DEAL WITH THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church

HOW TO DEAL WITH THE FORBIDDEN FRUITOnce again, it’s good to be back home. Nicole and I had an amazing time in Israel! We were concerned, as many of you were also, about our safety. After we checked in the hotel in Tel Aviv, we decided to walk down to the ancient site of Joppa on the seashore, which was just 10 minutes from the hotel and it was only 8 o’clock in the evening. Since Joppa was not on our itinerary, we figured if we quickly walk there we could say we’ve been to the place where Jonah boarded the ship to go to Tarshish instead of Nineveh and where Peter had the vision of the unclean animals to teach him that the Gentiles were also welcome into the kingdom of God. So we crossed the street and got on the boardwalk that led to the site. It was well lit for couple of hundred yards and there were people there so we felt safe. Five minutes into the walk we realized that the streetlights didn’t go all the way to the site. In fact we had to walk through this dark road for a couple of miles. We said to each other let’s go a little bit further and if it gets worse we will turn right back and there’s the hotel. Just then I heard someone running behind me. I’m thinking all the worst. I turned to look and it was a girl jogging with her dog. Next thing – I see somebody else jogging from the direction we were going and it was a woman. As we kept walking, we saw men and women walking together leisurely and children playing around. It was more than safe. What was amazing was that it was about 10 o’clock when we headed back from Joppa and guess what – more people were just coming to the boardwalk to jog and exercise. We saw women by themselves and families and couples. The next day I asked the guide about it and he said – “The media paints a very negative picture of Israel. What you saw is normal. What you didn’t see was that there were plain-clothes policeman everywhere. Because we have to deal with terrorism so much, the result is that we’re probably the safest country on earth and our people know it.”

We saw a lot of sites and took as many as 5000 pictures and videos and plan on passing it along to you but we also had loads of fun!

This morning we’re back in our series on the Life of Christ and I’m preaching a message from Matthew 4 on the temptation of Jesus titled – HOW TO DEAL WITH THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT. I’m going to read this passage right from the wilderness of Judea where Jesus was tempted by the devil.

Matthew 4 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ ” 5 Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7 Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” 8 Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” 11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

Judean Wilderness

Judaea Wilderness (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Overall Background: The wilderness of Judea extends from the Dead Sea to Jerusalem. It is 35 miles long and 15 miles wide. It is an area of yellow sand and crumbling limestone. Even to this day there’s nothing out there but wild animals. As we drove through it, I tried to imagine what it was like for Jesus to be out there, isolated and hungry, tormented by the devil himself. He didn’t have to go through that but He did. Why? He did it to teach us how to overcome temptation in our own lives.

This morning we will learn 4 things from the life of Jesus on how to deal with temptation or the forbidden fruit:

I. TIMING: USUALLY FOLLOWING THE MOUNTAINTOPS. 

1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Background: To understand the seriousness of this passage, you actually have to read it in its context. In the verses directly preceding this passage, we read about John’s baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. By the way, we’re skipping over this message that I preached right by the banks of the Jordan River. You’ll get to watch it in a few Sundays. But this baptism was a very important event in the life of Jesus. As Matthew tells us that when He came up out of the water – 16 “behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. 17 And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Wow! Jesus was fully God but also remember that He was fully man. This was a mountaintop moment in His life. Gone were the days of just being a carpenter’s son in Nazareth; gone were the days of saying “My time has not yet come.” Gone were the days of waiting patiently. Luke tells us in Luke 3:23 that Jesus was thirty years of age at this time. His Heavenly Father had acknowledged him. You would think that the next thing would be for Him to find a pulpit and preach a thundering message or put up a sign up sheet of who wants to be my disciple or march into the temple in Jerusalem and declare that He was the Son of God here to save the world.

Instead, the very next verse says – 1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. I actually love Mark’s rendition in Mark 1:12 “Immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.”

King David's Tomb

King David’s Tomb (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

There’s a powerful principle here that you cannot afford to miss – “Be careful about the mountaintops in the Christian life. It’s right after a great message, a great service, a spiritual victory, and some positive experience in our lives that we face some of the worst and the lowest moments of our lives.” In fact, we are the most vulnerable right after we have seen God’s glory. We had the opportunity to see the tomb of David. I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 23 1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake. Now the very next verse – 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Application: Are you dealing with the wilderness of temptation? Do you feel that the enemy is after you? Are you on the mountaintop?

II. BAIT: NOT MUCH HAS CHANGED 

Background: The tactics of the Enemy haven’t changed much since the Garden of Eden. We’re going to follow the chronology of the temptations as given by Luke in his gospel. Matthew was not concerned about the order, which is fine.

First Bait – Luke 4:3   And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” He appealed to His appetite. Remember – he did the same to Eve in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food…” People will do almost anything just satisfy their taste buds and belly.

Second Bait – Luke 4:5 Then the devil, taking Him up on a high mountain, showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “All this authority I will give You, and their glory; for this has been delivered to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore, if You will worship before me, all will be Yours.” He appealed to His eyes/pleasure. Once again remember he did the same to Eve. Genesis 3:6 “…that it was pleasant to the eyes…” The eyes are the windows to the soul.

Third Bait – Luke 4:9   Then he brought Him to Jerusalem, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here. 10 For it is written: “He shall give His angels charge over you, To keep you,’ 11 and, “In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ ” He appealed to His pride. Once again remember Eve. Genesis 3:6 “…and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

The baits haven’t changed – Appetite, Pleasure, and Pride. Listen to 1 John 2:16 “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”

Does this mean we cannot enjoy good food, pleasure, and have ambitions? Of course not. The question is – “Is God the center and focus of your life?” 1 Corinthians 10:31 “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Application: Are you letting food, pleasure, and pride rule your life? Are you aware of the enemy’s bait in your life?

III. DEFENSE: GOD’S WORD. 

Each times the devil tempted Jesus He replied with Scripture. He used the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Eph. 6:17)

#1 Food – Luke 4:4 Jesus answered him, saying, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God.’ ” He was quoting Deuteronomy 8:3.

#2 Pleasure – 8 And Jesus answered and said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve.’ ” He was quoting Deuteronomy 6:13.

#3 Pride – 12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It has been said, ‘You shall not tempt the LORD your God.’ ” He was quoting Deuteronomy 6:16.

Most people (and I’m not exempting Christians from this category) tend to live by their emotions, intuitions, or experiences. As a pastor I do a lot of marital and premarital counseling. I explain to the couples that your emotions can be very misleading. You hear things like – “I felt I had to do that.” “I just had this feeling.” “You know when you get that feeling.” Men – You’re married but what if you were to come across this woman and immediately you feel a connection with her. It’s amazing! She’s the one! You can feel it deep within! I made a huge mistake and married the wrong person and I need to get with this one. You might wanna try Tums! And the same goes with you ladies.

One of my favorite quotes by J. Sidlow Baxter is “Your emotions are the shallowest part of your nature. God doesn’t do His deepest work in the shallowest part.”

So what is the surest way of handling temptations? It is the truth of the Word of God. Listen to Psalm 119:11 “Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You.” That’s why at Clearview we focus so much on the Bible with adults and youth and children (Awana). By the way, you better know your Bible because sometimes the enemy may even use the Bible against you. Jerome the church father who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate (we stood in the place where he worked and later his grave was) said, “Therefore if anyone is not feeding on the Word of God, that person is not living.”

Application: What is the place of God’s Word in your life? Are you feeding upon it? Are you reading it? Are you hearing it preached? Are your children coming to Sunday School, youth, Awana, etc?

IV. KEY: JESUS WAS MORE THAN OUR EXAMPLE.

It is very easy to misunderstand this message. “Jesus has given us an example on how to deal with temptation. All you have to do with temptation is know the timing, recognize the baits, and use the Bible.” Not true.

Israel wandering in the Wilderness

Israel wandering in the Wilderness (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

Have you noticed that every time Jesus responded to the devil He quoted from Deuteronomy? These words were actually given to the people of Israel when they left Egypt and were headed to the Promised Land. God had told them to trust Him, look to Him, wait upon Him, and they will be all right. As you know, the people blew the test. They didn’t trust God, didn’t look to Him, and didn’t wait upon Him. They griped, complained, worshipped the golden calf, and disobeyed Moses. What was the result? They all had to die in the wilderness.

Jesus in those 40 went through what the people of Israel went through in 40 years and He showed how it is more than possible to walk with God in faith and obedience. But there’s more – He did it to become our provision as we walk through the same trials and temptations. Listen to Hebrews 2:18 “For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”

Meaning: My job and your job in dealing with trials and temptations is to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee (All images © 2015 Abidan and Nicole Shah)

In Matthew 14:22 we read how the disciples were in the middle of the Sea, tossed by the waves. We were on the Sea of Galilee and its quite frightening how it can go from being perfectly calm to a storm. As you know Jesus walked to them and they were afraid thinking it was a ghost. But Peter said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous… Meaning: He took his eyes off Jesus. Immediately he began to sink. They key is to keep our eyes on Jesus.

Invitation: Do you have your eyes on Jesus? Are you saved?

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW by Pastor Shah, Clearview Church, Henderson

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW (1)

We’re in our series on the Life of Christ from all four gospels and this morning we are in Luke 3 for our message titled, “OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW.” We are 4 days from January 2015. Many of you may not know that the word JanuaryJanus comes from Janus the Roman God of transitions. He is usually depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, one to the past and one to the future. This morning were going to do some reflecting back and some resolving forward.

Luke 3 2 while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, 4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. 5 Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Overall Background: The passage we just read describes a period of great transition in the history of God’s people. The old order was coming to a close and a new order was about to begin. For almost 400 years there had been an eerie silence but now a voice was heard crying in the wilderness. There was a transition in God’s plan of redemption.

Although we will see this passage theologically, there are some powerful applications for our daily lives as well. Each of us are at a transition point in our lives. 2014 is ending and 2015 is about to start. For some of us, 2014 was a dark year, a year of pain, of disappointment, and of unfulfilled goals. That thought can paralyze you and leave you hopeless. But thank God for new years! It is God’s way of reminding us to start again and not lose hope and we’re not talking about wishful thinking and power of suggestion.

Application: Has this year been a year of pain, disappointment, and unfulfillment? Look to the Holy Spirit this morning. Let Him change your perspective on the past. Let Him bring hope into your life for the upcoming year. Do you know Christ as your Savior? There’s no better way to begin this year than by making Him your Savior.

There are 3 things we will see in this passage:

I. THE WILDERNESS EXPERIENCE 

Listen once again to verse 2 “while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.” In a sense the wilderness refers to the wilderness of Judea near the Jordan River. But I think it has a deeper meaning. It’s referring to the moral, political, and spiritual wilderness and emptiness in Israel. God’s people were living in darkness. To understand this, we have to go back to verse 1 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee…

Background: This is quite an interesting passage. Seven different rulers are mentioned in these two verses. There is a reason why Luke listed them. It’s not just a chronological marker. Let’s look at them briefly:

  1. Tiberius Caesar – Tiberius CaesarHe was the stepson of Augustus. He was not the next in line to be the Emperor of Rome but since Augustus’s grandsons (Lucius Caesar and Gaius Caesar) had died, the lot fell upon Tiberius in AD 14. What kind of man was Tiberius? Oh he was a great general but, as an individual, he was horrible – a cruel man, a homosexual, perverse beyond your wildest imaginations. The Roman historian Suetonius describes some of the heinous things that he did for pleasure. He was the Caesar who is mentioned in the Gospels.
  2. Pontius Pilate – Tiberius ruled through prefects or procurators who were financial officers in charge of keeping peace and collecting taxes. What kind of a man was Pontius Pilate? The little we know about him is that he repeatedly agitated the Jewish people by putting up images of the Emperor in Jerusalem (for which Tiberius got onto him), taking money from the Temple to build an aqueduct and when the Jewish people protested, he had his soldiers in the crowd attack and kill them, and the list goes on.
  3. Herod tetrarch of Galilee and Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis – they were both sons of King Herod. And if you know what’s coming later – Herod Antipas took Herodias his own brother Philip’s wife (By the way, he is not to be confused with Philip the tetrarch of Iturea. There was another brother named Herod Philip). He was also responsible for giving the orders to cut off John the Baptist’s head because he was so swept away by the provocative dance of Salome, Herodias’ daughter.
  4. Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene – not much is known about this ruler but he’s the same.
  5. Annas and CaiaphasAnnas and Caiaphas were high priests – Annas was the father-in-law who was removed from his position as high priest but he held onto the title. Caiaphas married his daughter and kept the family business going. The position of high priest was not about holiness and righteousness but about money, politics, and power. Remember – these were the men who condemned Jesus to be crucified.

This was a wilderness period in the life of God’s people. But remember – every time God begins to do a powerful work He always takes us to the wilderness:

  • Moses was in the backside of the desert for 40 years before he led his people out of Egypt. His pride was broken down. He was very reluctant to go back.
  • David had to live in caves and wilderness for about 8 years before he became king.
  • Jesus spent 40 days and nights being tempted in the wilderness.
  • Paul went to Arabia, probably Mount Sinai, for three years before beginning his ministry.

Wilderness may seem bad at the moment but it’s always God’s way of beginning something new. The time limit may be a few years, few months, or a few weeks. You can look at them in despair or you can look at them in anticipation of great days ahead.

Application: When you look at 2014, what do you see? Do you see wilderness? Do you see emptiness – spiritually, relationally, aspirationally? The important thing to understand is that God allows these times of wilderness to bring us to a place where all we can do is say “God, unless you bring life, there’s nothing but death. Unless you do something new, there is no hope.” The sooner you can acknowledge that, the better.

II. THE WORD ARRIVES 

2 “…the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”

John the BaptistBackground: What was John doing in the wilderness? Maybe he was disenchanted or tired of trying to reach people. We’re not sure. But the word arrives! The word for “word” is “rhema.” This is not like the word for word in John 1, which is “logos.” Here rhema refers to God’s special call on a person’s life. Like Moses and the burning bush.

Do you know that this morning God’s “rhema” is coming to you? There’s something that God is saying specifically to you. The Holy Spirit is calling you to some action.

Illustration: God’s call came on my life one Sunday morning when I was listening to Nicole’s dad preach. I had heard that call when I was a young boy and again when I was in college but I thought I misheard it. But then it came again and thank God I obeyed!

God’s word is coming to some of you this very moment. Don’t think it’s always to be a preacher or a missionary. God is also calling some musicians, lawyers, business people, electricians, politicians, actors, etc.

What did John do? He did not complain about the wilderness. He did not explain to God how bad things were. Instead, listen to verse 3 And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins.” John obeyed.

Sadly, some of us have lost hope. We won’t admit it but we have given up. We have been in the wilderness so long that we have lost the vision that God gave us. In fact, there are some here who think that God doesn’t care for them.

Listen to what Paul says in Romans 5 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Application: Have you lost hope? Have you given up? Is the word of God coming to you this morning? Are you in a position where you are open to His voice? The real battle in the wilderness is whether God loves you. If you can answer that question with an affirmative, hope will come into your heart that very moment. If you hesitate, it’s because you are questioning the love of God in your life. God loved his people. His people were living in the wilderness. But Jesus had already come. John had hope.

III. THE VOICE CRIES OUT

4 as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness…”

There are 2 things the voice does:

  1. It calls us to prepare our hearts. Listen again to verse 4‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight.’ Repentance involves turning from sin and returning to God. If you want to leave the wilderness experience, the place to begin is by turning from sin and turning towards God. Call sin by its name. Don’t sugarcoat it. Don’t rationalize it. Don’t hide it so you can return to it later. Confess it and seek forgiveness for it. That’s the only way that you can “Prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight.” Remove the clutter from your heart.
  2. It calls us to watch God work. Listen to verse 5“Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth.” What is interesting here is that in verse 4 it says, “Prepare the way of the Lord make his paths straight.” The task is given to us to make things right for the coming of God. But, in verse 5 it says, “Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth.” Meaning: As you are preparing for the coming of God, something supernatural takes over. Instead of you working, God begins to work. Things begin to happen. What seemed to be the valley of the shadow of death is now filled. What seemed to be an impassable mountain is now just a bump in the road. What seemed to be a crooked place is made straight. What seemed to be the rough way is made smooth.

And what’s the result? Verse 6 And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ” Meaning: People around you realize that it’s the work of God. John’s ministry was a work of God. Jesus acknowledged and complemented John.

This morning you can either look at your wilderness experience as a curse or you can look at it as a precursor of God’s arrival. You can either sit back in hopelessness or you can sit up in anticipation of what God’s about to do. The greatest thing that God is going to do is save souls. Nothing is more important then seeing lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. Do you know him?

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