Luke 3:1-2, “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
So what’s so important about some old, long dead, and largely forgotten Romans, and a couple high priests anyway? John, the Son of Zacharias we can all understand, this is the selfsame John who went on to be known as John the Baptist, or John the Baptizer, but why are these other men forever remembered in the pages of scripture?
As with everything that is in the word of God, these men were included in the Bible to teach us a very timely and practical lesson.
As some of you might know by now I am a history dork. If I’d had a choice in my vocation, or what I would pick as a career, it would, ten out of ten times, without equivocation, be archaeology. I love history, and the idea that one can unearth something that someone last held hundreds or even thousands of years ago is strangely appealing to me.
One would think that the whole idea of archaeology, or unearthing long lost trinkets would have worn off by now, but even well into my thirties, I still take my metal detector once in awhile when time permits, and patiently wave it over long undisturbed earth near castles, or old churches. As far as worth goes what I end up finding most of the time has no value other than intrinsic, but holding an arrowhead or even a horseshoe that hasn’t seen the sun in centuries between my fingers is something indescribable.
So although Tiberius Caesar, Herod or Philip his brother might not be of much interest to most, I found them fascinating historical figures, and while researching this moment in time, this fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius even formulated a practical teaching that I believe will speak to some of you.
The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius was not a good year for the man. Historically speaking, the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius wasn’t really a year in which he reigned. In what we would now refer to as 28A.D. Tiberius gave up control of his empire for fear of uprising, and assassination attempts, he then left the Roman throne, and isolated himself somewhere on the island of Capri. He entrusted all his imperial powers, and as such the welfare of the Roman Empire to one of his closest confidants, a man by the name of Lucius Aelius Sejanus. Once Sejanus becomes the de facto ruler of the empire, he promptly proceeds to abuse the authority he has been given by Caesar, and as consequence unleashes political chaos within the whole of the Roman Empire.
From what history tells us, this man Sejanus was neither a good, nor a noble man. He accumulated power by eliminating potential political opponents, including the Emperor’s own son, Drusus Julius Caesar.
It is oddly ironic that the man Tiberius chose to command Rome while he was away turned out to be the reason his worst fears were coming to fruition before his very eyes. It was due to fear of uprising, revolt, and assassination attempts that Tiberius left Rome in the first place.
Globally speaking, the entire political world was turned on its ear. It was chaotic, unpredictable, and men plotted against each other on a constant basis.
Throughout all this Israel wasn’t fairing much better either. Herod was tetrarch, or governor of Galilee, his brother Philip governor of two other regions, and since they didn’t like each other much they decided to go to war. Politically speaking, Israel was fragmented, and the sons of Herod the Great begin to do battle for supremacy. Fractured, and led by pagans, with the Romans by way of Pontius Pilate governing Judea, Israel was not in good shape. The Roman Empire was long past its zenith and was now in its decline, the priests were hirelings to anyone who would pay them, pagans were ruling the land, and everyone was busy doing something. No one could deny that all these men of whom the Bible speaks, all the men that the Word itemized for us were busy people, with buys lives, upwardly mobile and on a vertical trajectory, their fingernails bloody as they clawed, and fought their way to the top of some imaginary hill.
Yes, all these men were busy, their schedules packed, except for John who was in the wilderness. Other than surviving, and communing with God there isn’t much one can do in the wilderness, but it was here that the word of God came to John, and it was here that his ministry began. We see the clear contrast between John, and all the other men who were busy with running empires, warring with each other, and plotting against each other, and we realize that in order to hear God, one must make time for Him. God cannot speak to busy people, because busy people don’t take the time to be still and hear His voice. God is no longer a priority, and with each passing day He slips down the list a little further, other issues of life taking precedent over simply spending time with Him.
So why did God choose to speak to John in the wilderness? I believe the wilderness was the perfect representation of the spiritual dryness and death that had overtaken not only Israel, but even the house of God, the priests of His house and those who ought to have grown in Him.
God spoke to John in the wilderness because in a time when everyone around him was focused on their goals, and ambitions, on what they could achieve and what they could accomplish, John learned total dependency upon God in the wilderness. It is in the wilderness of life that we learn to be dependent on God. When all our safety nets have been removed, when all other options have long faded into the mist, it is then that we learn to be dependent on Him; it is then that He proves Himself to us.
God speaks when we are silent. He will not attempt to out-shout us; He will not vie or otherwise contend for our attention or our time. God is not in competition with the world, and if we treat God as though He were one of many contenders, seeing what He offers as opposed to what the world offers, He will simply go and stand at the door of another heart that is willing to surrender all to Him. It is we, who must knock, and it is He that opens; it is we who must ask, and it is He that will give.
In the wilderness God gave John a new understanding not only of Himself, but of society, religion, and his mission and calling. When all was silent around him, the word of God came to John, and spoke to him about his identity in Him. When all around him was silent, God spoke to John.
Throughout his ministry John was asked who he was, and without fail he had a precise and forthright answer each time he was asked this question. John knew his identity in God, he knew who he was without equivocation because God had spoken to him in the wilderness, and due to this dialogue there was purpose and certainty in John’s ministry, identity, and character. When a man is uncertain of who he is in God, when a man is uncertain as to his identity in Christ, he is easily swayed, easily moved, easily made to retreat and give up ground to the enemy. When however, we know who we are, we stand on that singular truth that we are sons and daughters of the most high God, then come what may, we are not moved.
Matthew 3:1-3, “In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: ‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.”
It was only by divine revelation that John knew who he was, it was only by God speaking to him that John would have the strength and boldness to say, ‘I am the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, I am he, I am that man, that voice crying in the wilderness.’
We live in a time and amidst a society wherein great forces have been marshaled in an attempt to strip us of our identity. If the world had its way, we would all be a mass of faceless individuals, absent of identity, all wearing the same clothes, drinking the same soft drinks, eating the same food, and marching to the beat of the same drummer. The world has attempted to assimilate everyone, including the church, because people certain of their identity stand out like blood on fresh snow, and there is great strength in knowing who you are.
In addition to revealing his identity in the wilderness, God also revealed the condition of society as a whole to John. It is due to this revelation; it is due to this new understanding concerning the sinfulness of the times in which he lived that John was able to speak to tax collectors about corruption, to the Roman guards about injustice, to the Pharisees and Sadducees about hypocrisy, and to Herod about immorality. Why is John the only man to see these things during the first part of the first century? Why didn’t Annas and Caiaphas the high priests, the spiritual leaders, see the sin into which the nation had descended? Because in the midst of a chaotic time, filled with busy people, John takes the time to make time, he goes off into the wilderness to hear the word of the Lord.
If you desire for God to speak to you, make sure you make the time for Him to speak to you. It’s not God’s fault that we can’t hear Him over the tumult of our daily lives, it’s not God’s fault that we can’t hear Him over the chaos into which we daily plunge ourselves with abandon, God is speaking, but most today are too busy to hear His voice. It is only by taking the time, and hearing the voice of God that we will understand the times and the seasons we are living in, it is only by removing ourselves from the noise of the crowd that we will hear Him clearly, and know what we must do, where we must go, and what we must say. There are no shortcuts to spending time with God, there is no special prayer we can say, or special scripture we can read to replace simply being in His presence, and waiting to hear His voice. I realize for some who feel as though they are wasting precious seconds if they’re not doing something, trivial as that something might be, from the moment they awake to the moment they return to bed it might be difficult, but at least once a day, take a few minutes and just go be alone with God. You will see the benefits of this not in a year, or five years, but immediately, and profoundly, because as soon as we make time to hear God, we realize He’s been speaking to us all along.
With love in Christ,
Michael Boldea Jr.