Christian Friend vol. 14, 1887
John the Baptist in the Wilderness.
Luke 1:80; Matt. 3.
The two passages at the head of the chapter describe the life of John the Baptist from his birth "till the day of his showing unto Israel." "The child grew, and waxed strong in spirit," it is said. To be a Nazarite is, as we have seen, the first condition necessary to the normal development of the man of faith. Then the Spirit can exercise His activity in order to make us grow, and to strengthen us with might in the inner man. Nothing will grieve Him, and He will not need to be occupied in rebuking and correcting us; we shall be like a tree planted in good soil, watered by streams of living water, and exposed to the sun's vivifying rays. The tree develops under such a salutary influence: its buds become flowers, and its flowers fruit, according to the season. Such were the characteristics of the prophet when still a child, and yet he was but a feeble picture of the One whose coming he was about to announce.
Of Jesus, John the Baptist's Lord, it is said, when a child that, He "grew and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon Him." And again, "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man." (Luke 2:40, 52.) He would not have been truly a man, if He had not from His birth passed through the successive stages of a man's life; He would not have been God, had He not done so in absolute perfection. John was in need of help to grow and wax strong in spirit; and the evangelist says, "The hand of the Lord was with him." (Luke 1:66.) Jesus grew and waxed strong of Himself, so to speak, although, as man, in absolute dependence. In Luke we find the perfection of this unfolding. The flower is in bud, not a blemish; it is in full bloom, not a defect; divine favour, the dew of heaven, fills its chalice; its perfume and grace are such as may delight God and men. It gives promise of fruit which appears in due season, the divine development of perfect maturity.
We have seen the moral state of the son of Zacharias. Let us briefly consider his external condition, such as it would, from his youth, have appeared to a human observer. The Word tells us that he "was in the deserts." What a contrast with the world by which he was surrounded: The Roman "beast" was at the zenith of its prosperity, and stable as no empire which had preceded it. (Luke 3:1.) Its administration, army, art, religion, even the Jewish religion (Luke 3:2), were organized to a remarkable degree. This certainly did not resemble the desert; and it was pleasant to live under such an economy. Between the desert and Judea under Herod a Lot would not have hesitated. John the Baptist found nothing there to attract him; he was in the desert, separated from the world wholly and visibly. Hence when, sent by God, he crosses the threshold of the desert to prophesy amidst the world and its noisy activity, his heart is met by emptiness and silence — "the voice of one crying in the wilderness," he says, for the world was a wilderness to him. He asks nothing of it; he does not go to it seeking "soft raiment;" he brings into it the customs of the country of his choice. His raiment is of camel's hair, the only coarse garment that the desert can offer him; he has a leathern girdle about his loins, as had in other times the prophet Elijah, when he presented himself to the officers of Ahaziah (2 Kings 1:8); his meat is locusts and wild honey, which he gathers in these desolate places. Like Elijah by the brook Cherith, he depends entirely for subsistence on that which God had prepared for him in a barren land — dependence painful to the flesh, but doubly blessed, for it is the power for all true ministry. John the Baptist was qualified by his wilderness life and experience to be the "voice" of Him who makes Himself heard there, and, like Elijah, fearlessly to fulfil his dangerous mission.
But there is One who has distanced John the Baptist in these experiences, He of whom it is said, in Psalm 110, "He shall drink of the brook in the way" - a short sentence expressing the Saviour's earthly career. In this psalm David views Him as already at God's right hand; but also he considers the way which will lead Him thither. How much is contained in these words: "He shall drink of the brook in the way." It is a picture of a man on the march hastening to accomplish his mission. Our thoughts are straightway carried back to Gideon's companions, who were raised up by the Lord for the deliverance of the people, and who drank of the brook in the way. (Judges 7.) There were three hundred of them chosen for a temporal deliverance: Jesus was alone and took the responsibility of an eternal salvation. Nothing arrested Him even for a moment. Of provisions He has none, only water to quench His thirst; and He does not deviate from the path to seek any. The resources which God has put in His way suffice, for He has only one end in view, the accomplishment of the mission on which His heart is wholly set. He would not have gone down upon His knees beside the brook to drink at His ease.
Have you ever noticed in the Gospels how many times the Saviour drank of the brook in the way? The springs of refreshment which He meets with after long stages under a burning sun are quickly counted springs produced by some beneficent rain wherewith heaven has for a moment watered His path, and whereat He has drunk without slackening His pace. When, at the well of Sychar, the conscience of a wretched woman of Samaria was reached by One who asked of her a drink, when she knew not even how to give Him a drop of water, the brook was flowing in the Saviour's path. And with what joy does He quench His thirst thereat by the way — "I have meat to eat that ye know not of . … He that sows and he that reaps may rejoice together!" (John 4:32-36.) When at the Pharisee's table, a poor woman, a sinner already convicted of sin, brought her tears, her kisses, and her ointment to the feet of grace, to Him who alone can forgive, it was not of Simon's repast which the Saviour partook, but of the table which God had prepared in the heart of this woman. While Martha, "careful and troubled," and "cumbered about much serving," prepared to receive Jesus into her house, He drank of the brook in the way with His eyes resting on Mary, who, seated in silence at His feet, listened to and found in Him the good part. And at the extreme limit of the last stage of His journey, where beneath the consuming fire He was about to cry, "I thirst," He finds a second time, not at the table at Bethany, but in Mary's house, the brook made ready for Him, when, anticipating the day of His burying, she expended all her perfume on the feet and head of the Saviour about to die.
Ah! these occasions were rare, but they were enough for a heart so perfect, so entirely subject to and dependent on the Father. Blessed Saviour! Thou hast drunk of the brook in the way, but Thou shalt lift up the head. Already Thou art in the highest place, seated on the Father's throne at His right hand. Thou hast the joy of having finished Thy work to the glory of Thy Father, and Thy presence on high is the unalterable witness thereto. In virtue of this work Thou hast been saluted of God a High Priest for ever for us, after the order of Melchisedec. But it yet remains for Thee to occupy Thy throne, to take Thy place there, and to make Thine enemies Thy footstool. Then Thou wilt have us with Thyself. Thou shalt see of the travail of Thy soul, and shalt be satisfied!