In the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar,
            Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
            Herod was tetrarch of Galilee,
            Annas and Caiaphas were high priests.
Jesus was 30 years old; his relative John was preaching in the desert.

On the eighth day, they came to circumcise John. Zacharias asked
for a writing tablet and wrote, "His name is John." Immediately his
tongue was loosed, and he spoke praises to God. Zacharias was
filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, "Blessed is the Lord God
of Israel; for He has visited and redeemed His people, . . .that we
should be saved from our enemies, . . and serve Him without fear
in holiness and righteousness all the days of our life.

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Highest; for you
will go before the face of the Lord to prepare His ways, to give
knowledge of salvation by the remission of their sins, through the
tender mercies of our God, to give light to those who sit in darkness,
to guide our feet into the way of peace." So the child grew and
became strong in spirit.

The word of God came to John in the wilderness. [{Matthew 3:4} Now
John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around
his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.] He went into all
the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance
for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of Isaiah the
prophet, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
'Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make His paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough ways smooth;
All flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

Then John said to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by
him, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to
come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not say, "We have
Abraham as our father. I say to you that God is able to raise up
children to Abraham from these stones.

                                         Luke 1:59-80 & 3:2-8 NKJV, condensed

                John the Baptist - Worth a 20-mile Walk

John broke onto the scene dressed in camel's hair clothing girded by a
leather belt. He ate off the land, a diet of locusts and wild honey. So why
did he attract attention? His specialties were preaching and baptizing.
People walked 20 miles or more just to hear and see him. Lots and lots
of people did this. That's 20 miles one way, so depending how far a
person could walk in one day, we're talking about an event that would
take most of the week! John the Baptist was an impressive figure.

Let's start with the day he was named. His dad made it a big event! And
rightly so. At the naming, Zacharias found his voice again. Just listen to the
joy that broke his silence. Praise be to God for redemption . . . mercy . . .
forgiveness of sins . . . light from heaven . . . peace! Had the world changed?
Not really, except that a child had been born to Zacharias and Elizabeth.
Had Zacharias changed? You bet. The old man experienced both birth and
rebirth. Now he knew first hand that when people have faith, the impossible
can happen.

The new father had a mandate for his firstborn, "You, my child, will be the
prophet of God, announcing mercy and forgiveness. God's salvation is
a rising sun, coming from heaven, to shine on our darkness, into the very
shadow of death, and guide our feet into the path of peace. You will get
the ball rolling, and prepare our people for God's miracle of grace."
People would expect a lot from this child. Surely God's hand was upon him.

The words "desert" and "wilderness" can be used interchangeably in this
text. Either word you use it's a harsh environment, a place where everything
bites, stings, pricks or cuts. The desert certainly left its mark upon John.

Then John went into the region around the Jordan River and preached the
coming of God's kingdom. He didn't bring his message to the cities and
towns where the people lived. Instead he stayed out there by the Jordan
and people came to him. They believed his message. They confessed
their sins. They were baptized in the river. They talked about the Messiah.

John the Baptist is well-known for his thoughts on road-building. People
who walked 20 miles to see John would know the importance of a good
road. They would know too that when an important official is expected,
you'd better refurbish the transportation routes.

Faith, too, is not passive. If you want to experience the coming Messiah,
you must work on the highway; fill in the valleys, bulldoze through the
mountains, make the crooked places straight and the rough places smooth.

The crowds kept coming. City people and country people. Rich and poor.
Young and old. Men and women; children too. But John saw just two
kinds of people: those who humbled themselves before their Maker,
and those whose motives were questionable.

That's when he spoke sharply. "Brood of vipers! Snakes! What are
you doing here?! If you want to be baptized you must have a new heart,
you must change your behavior. Don't just assume you are part of
Abraham's family. By golly, God could turn these very stones into
children of Abraham. No, you must do something, bear some fruit that
is worthy of repentance." John was not having a feel-good party. This
is fiery stuff! Confession and forgiveness of sins is serious business,
and it requires some big changes.

We often think of ourselves as seekers on the road that leads to God.
John tells us it's the other way around. God has been searching for us
long before we started looking for God. But too often the barriers are up
and the way is hindered. The road requires much work.


Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further
study or reflection.


Icebreaker: Have you ever seen a celebrity in person?  Do you have 
                   autographs to crow about?  What famous person have you met?


Is there anybody you would you walk 20 miles to see or hear?
Is there any cause for which you would walk 20 miles?


John's father pictured salvation as God rescuing his people from their enemies
and bringing about peace and security.
            How do you envision God's salvation?

Zacharias, the one who at first needed a sign in order to believe, now speaks
with absolute certainty. That's a real transformation. He becomes a
prophet of hope.--God has not forgotten us; God hears our prayers.
            Did you ever have an experience that transformed your life?
                        If so, what was it that made the difference?
            When have you given reassurance to someone needing hope?

Preparing a road for the Lord requires work, some effort on our part.
            What do you do, or what have you done in the past, to prepare
                        yourself to receive and experience the presence of God?
A road requires vigilance. It can become overgrown, like a jungle.
            At what point in your life has that been true for you?

John likened people to fruit trees. Fruit trees can have good fruit, bad fruit or
no fruit at all. Most of us are a combination of all three of those choices.
            If you are in a group, what good fruit do you see in each other?
            Are you able to identify some of your own bad fruit.
            Do you have areas in your life where there is no fruit?
John talked about bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
            What do you think that means?

Change means, "I used to . . ., but now I. . . ." 
            How would you fill in the blanks?

Imagine John the Baptist coming to your town.  What would that be like? 
            What would John look like?
            Where he would preach?
            Who would go to hear him?
            Would you go to hear him?   Why or why not?
Talk about John's image and what message he might bring to your town.
           Do you think anything or anybody would be different after he leaves?

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