1 In the fifteenth year of the rule of the emperor Tiberius—when Pontius Pilate was governor over Judea and Herod was ruler over Galilee, his brother Philip was ruler over Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was ruler over Abilene, 2 during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas—God’s word came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 John went throughout the region of the Jordan River, calling for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins. 4 This is just as it was written in the scroll of the words of Isaiah the prophet,
A voice crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way for the Lord;
make his paths straight.
5 Every valley will be filled,
and every mountain and hill will be leveled.
The crooked will be made straight
and the rough places made smooth.
6 All humanity will see God’s salvation.”
God’s word came to John in the wilderness.
Scholars of the New Testament point out that the historical references in Luke’s story of John the Baptist are not unimportant tidbits. The names and places are meant to ground the story in reality: John was a real person, who lived in the time of Tiberius, Herod, Philip and Lysanias, Annas and Caiphas. You can go and visit the places where he preached: the wilderness around the Jordan River.
John was a real human being, just like you and me. And the word of God came to him.
We do disservice to God’s activity in the world when we confine our understanding of the word of God to the pages of scripture. The scripture is incredibly important, of course – but it can also allow us to keep God at arms’ length. That was then, we think, God was speaking to people then. And we let ourselves off the hook for listening, for hearing, for speaking and acting on God’s word today. God’s interest in the affairs of human beings didn’t end with the Resurrection. God is still alive, still present, still working out the divine purpose each and every day.
If the word of God came to John, why not to you and me?
For Pondering & Prayer
One way to hear the word of God afresh is to read the scripture slowly and prayerfully, carefully considering every word. From time to time, God may interrupt your reading by causing you to linger over a particular word or phrase. Then consider, with God, why this word? Why not try this with today’s scripture passage?
How would you distinguish between the word of God that comes from the inspiration of the Spirit, as it did for John, and the Word of God as written in the scriptures? Is there a difference?