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On your Mark

Revival in the desert

“And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River” (Mark 1:4,5, NIV).

Isaiah had prophesied that before the Lord came, a messenger would be raised up in the desert.

Why the desert? Why not the city, the seacoast or a verdant plain?

On about 30 occasions, I’ve been in the location where John the Baptist ministered. I always marvel that he could attract people down to where he was, 1,200 feet below sea level. Jerusalem is a steep 20-mile climb of more than 3,500 feet, and the Judean countryside is highland area. It’s only a 30-minute drive, but try walking!

Perhaps you wouldn’t mind the day’s walk downhill to where John preached and baptized, but you certainly would not like the walk back up! Who today would walk one day to get to church, and then another day to get back home?

When planning strategically for new church buildings, we want location, location, location. We want to make it easy for people to come, park and walk to the front door. We are all about access.

That’s all well and good, but John was not about access. You had to want to get to him.

And God wanted John out in the desert — that’s why Isaiah prophesied it 800 years earlier.

Throughout church history, the Holy Spirit has used unusual places to begin powerful spiritual movements: a small town in Germany called Wittenberg where Luther posted his 95 theses, a mission in London where John Wesley felt his heart strangely warmed by hearing Luther’s commentary on Romans being read, a former stable in Los Angeles converted into the Azusa Street Mission where the Pentecostal Movement caught fire, a rented opera house in Hot Springs, Ark., where the Assemblies of God was born.

God is not impressed with the grandeur of a place. He is concerned about the emptiness in the heart. John addressed that emptiness by passionately proclaiming that God forgives sins.

That’s why people were coming to John down near where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. He had an authentic message from God.

When an authentic message from God is wedded to an authentic hunger in the heart, a powerful spiritual movement gets underway.

That’s the challenge before us. Those who proclaim God’s Word must do so with conviction and passion. People will not be attracted by those who mumble religious words or simply say interesting things — even if they do so in multi-million-dollar buildings.

On the other hand, the greatest preachers of God’s message will see no results if hearts are not open to receive, repent and be cleansed of sin.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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