Luke 3:1-2 “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene,
“Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness.”
Right in the middle of a tedious array of chronological data, a striking statement splashes excitement all over an otherwise drab account. “The word of God came unto John.”
Try to visualize that. Perhaps you imagine a Sesame Street experience, with letters dancing up to him. (No doubt, John the Baptist answers by most views to Oscar the Grouch!) A more religious individual might conceive of a scroll materializing in the dessert. One atheist recently conjectured that it was an “auditory hallucination,” as he had surmised all along.
Of course, all of these speculations are just silly! Dr. Luke’s point here is that John had a life altering experience with God. It imbued him with strength to withstand hardship and persecution, not innate to the human condition.
Something happened to John in the wilderness that we Christians need today! It emboldened him to stand up to the elitist notions of religious bullies. It encouraged him to rejoice at the diminishing of his own popularity. It even empowered him to lose his life for the sake of his integrity.
Oh! How desperately does the church need some of that! We must find out what happened to John, and pray, “Dear Jesus, do it again!”
Now, an examination of the Greek text sheds some light on our passage from Luke’s gospel. In the original language, we find that the word RHEMA is the subject of the sentence. “The rhema of God came unto John.”
Rhema represents the spoken word, as distinguished from the more general term, logos, the expression of thought. (There is some difficulty defining the exact difference between these two. There is no clear agreement among scholars. Both are translated “word,” but this point is of little significance in our present study.)
The importance of the use of rhema is seen in the transforming effect on human behavior, found here and elsewhere in the New Testament. Let’s look at it in another passage from the gospel of Luke–Lk.1:26-38.
What motivates a teenage girl to lay aside her reputation, her wedding plans, and perhaps even her life? (Unwed mothers were stoned to death in her society.) Why would she take such a risk to obey God? Where could she find the courage to walk out her faith before prying eyes and loose lips? In verse 34, she asks the operative question: “How shall this be…?”
But the strongest motive is presented with a word lost in the translation of verse 37, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” The Amplified Bible corrects this to read: “For…no word [no rhema] from God shall be without power or impossible of fulfillment.” (Resident within the rhema itself is the power to carry it out!)
To this Mary responds, “…Be it unto me according to thy rhema.” She takes her stand not merely on some promise from scripture. No doubt, she is well acquainted with Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” The hope of all Israel is grounded in the messianic promises of Isaiah. But Mary is consenting to an undertaking of faith and courage that requires something more.
Here is the key, and this is critical: Jesus said, “He that is of God, heareth God’s rhema’s.” (John 8:47) When my 5-year-old grandson doesn’t want to hear what I’m saying, he simply focuses his attention on something else, and literally can’t hear me. Not only does he not obey, but he also hopes to avoid accountability. For his own sake, I do not hold him guiltless. Likewise, all men are capable, and often guilty, of tuning out the voice of God. “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19)
Romans 10:17 declares, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” That’s hearing the rhema, not reading the logos! So I can believe God for power to finish any job when I know that He told me to start it.
If God could not, or would not, communicate with us, he would not be our loving Father. He’d be a mere abstraction, or a cruel ogre, waiting to pounce in merciless judgement upon his creation. But if we turn our attention away from the voice of his mercy, unwilling to hear, that’s on us! “None are so blind as those who will not see.”
There is no shortcut that permits us to substitute a promise box, or a Pinterest devotional, for an intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
John and Mary did exceptional exploits for God, because they heard the rhema of God. It is not “auditory hallucinations” that guide us. Neither do we live by a book of rules. But that same still, small voice that said, “Come to Jesus,” continues to lead us daily into exploits of faith. (“…the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.” Daniel 11:32)