FIRST the Water, Only THEN the Wilderness!

Some stories begin and end in the wilderness. Old John the Baptist’s does. He’s plum square in the middle of the wilds. ‘Then out to edge at the Jordan River. Then there’s Jesus. First, he makes his way to the wilderness to wade in the waters with John. Then, he’s off to the deeper wilderness to deal with the wiles of the devil. For both of these, it’s the water, not the wilderness that makes all the difference. That’s not just their story. It’s ours. Sunday after Sunday, even in a New Year, folks land at church fresh from the wilds of the wilderness. You know what I mean. It’s dangerous out there! The heat at the office, even when it’s cold on the way to the car. The beasts in the backrooms where couples fight and kids do stuff on the computer that parents would never imagine. The hills you gotta climb just to get to the doctor, and the valleys we fear when the doc. starts in to report. Whatever! You know what I mean.

And you know what? Whether driven by the Spirit, like Jesus, or seduced or compelled by the Tempter, many a soul in these seats knows full well. It’s back to the wilderness tomorrow.

But friends, dear friends, don’t miss this. Always, always, in between us and the wilderness, there’s the water! Just as for John and for Jesus. Praise God!

How’s your imagination? I mean I can just see John, down in the river, dippin’ in the waters of life! I see him with a box o’ bubble bath sudsing up the Jordan. ‘Back brush in hand. ‘Scrubbin’ every underarm and back-o-the-neck square inch of body and soul. No fleas or flaws unattended while this Camel-wearin’, locust lovin’ prophet gets ready to baptize Israel-and-everybody into repentance. (‘Turnin’ our life around to God!) ‘And to make straight in the desert a highway for our God. And then comes Jesus. ‘Himself having walked the wilderness, just like we do all week, just to get to the shoreline of the Jordan. And to take the waters. And to set the soul to sparkling. And to see the dove settle down. And to hear the very voice of God lift up. “You are my beloved! With you I am well pleased!” BUT GET THIS. DO GET IT. Jesus doesn’t tarry. Or go off on his own. The SPIRIT drives him. The devil doesn’t draw or call him. The SPIRIT drives him out into that desert. Why? Why? To demonstrate to Jesus and to us, that once you’ve been to the waters, bathed in the blessing of God, you’re not the same! Neither is the wilderness you face. It’s lost its power. Its temptations can be toppled. Our devils and our demons can be put to flight. (Just like Jesus’.) Self-centeredness (feed yourself) can’t be your diet. You no longer have a need or a desire to make a big show and then dare God to break your fall when you do. (And you will.) Jesus can tell you, “Your arm’s too short to box with God.” But best: when the world offers you all it has (a good job, great family, real security, even others’ admiration and affection), you still say, “No.” And you sing, loud enough even the devil can hear. “Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all; he is my strength from day to day, without him I would fall.” Or maybe this one, “My GOD is an awesome God, he reigns with power and love, my God is an awesome God.” Or maybe just this, “Give me Jesus; give me Jesus. O, when I’m ‘bout die, give Jesus.”

At the Jordan, in the waters, Jesus glistens. And gathers in the voice of God that speaks to his soul. Friend, whether you can remember your baptism or you can’t, the same has come to you! Come from the wilderness as we do, just like Jesus, return to it as we will… just like him, he and we go away, fortified and equipped.  Can you feel it? Won’t you remember it? Fortified & equipped! I tell you the truth. We can only imagine what might have happened with Jesus in the desert, had not God offered him the waters first. Only then, the Spirit, not the Devil, drives him into that wily wilderness. And Jesus is utterly equipped to deal with it, even defeat it.  Jesus is himself a New Creation, confirmed at his baptism. We are too, through ours! An awful lot o’ souls in church on Sunday end up wilderness wanderers (or warriors) on Monday. You might be one of them! I urge, empower, implore you. Do not be one of those who somehow forgets or behaves in morning as though you’ve not been at the waters on this sacred day before!!! Don’t be diminished in your ability to deal with the wilderness and the beasts it’s set-in-wait for you. Oh no. Remember your baptism and be thankful. Courageous. Contrary to sin. And committed to Christ. What a sweet victory God has set in store… for you… and for me… tomorrow… and for ever more.

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