No writer of the other synoptic gospels so abruptly begins his narrative of Jesus with such a telescopic focus on the wilderness. John, only a few months older than his cousin Jesus, has lived away from the family and home, eating locusts, wearing animal skins and a leather belt, looking like some kind of Jeremiah Johnson, beckons all of Israel into the wilderness. He cries out as some kind of Old Testament prophet, proclaiming a new way of life.
This is the most important spiritual event in Israel in 300 years. After three centuries of silence, the religious community is baffled and curious. Has Elijah come back? After all, the prophecies had said that a day was coming like this. Malachi, the last writer of the canon of scripture had prophesied,
“Behold, I send My messenger,
And he will prepare the way before Me.
And the Lord, whom you seek,
Will suddenly come to His temple,
Even the Messenger of the covenant,
In whom you delight.
Behold, He is coming,”
Says the Lord of hosts.
After all, the people of Israel understood the call—a call to the wilderness where Abraham had forged his life; a call to the wilderness where Israel had turned her back on Egypt. And now an old paradigm is dressed in a new worldview, John is once again calling the people into the wilderness.
John, the last of the Old Testament prophets, a bridge figure from the old law to a new dispensation, is proclaiming a new world order. His cry is for repentance and confession of sin,
John came baptizing in the wilderness and preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. Then all the land of Judea, and those from Jerusalem, went out to him and were all baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
An alternative reality is being announced; a new paradigm is being proclaimed. It is a preparation of the heart. It is a call to the wilderness, for one to find his heart. Even Jesus is being called to the wilderness.
God always takes us to the wilderness to find our heart again. It almost always leads us into repentance from the old and acceptance of the new! Repentance is the telescoped purpose of the wilderness. We are baptized in the wilderness. It is a baptism of repentance. God beckons all of us into the wilderness that we might repent and find our heart.
Last month, in March, after Liz and I had met with our dear friends H.B. and Bev London in Palm Desert, we drove out to Joshua Tree, a beautifully strange desert national park. We hiked the wilderness of cactus and Joshua Trees and we prayed. We walked, talked, and prayed. We climbed a high rock, looking out over the desert and we repented. We repented of so many areas of our life. We gave our lives and our ministry future to Jesus in a new way.
The wilderness is the only place we can go if we want to find Jesus in a crisis. Jesus is the Lord of the wilderness. Jesus is the Lord of your crisis. If you are in a wilderness now in your life, embrace it. God is in the wilderness. Surrender afresh in the wilderness and watch what God will do.
One more thing, cactus’ blossom in the wilderness.
On the Road,
 The New King James Version. 1982 (Mal 3:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 The New King James Version. 1982 (Mk 1:4–5). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.