“When the religion of Christ is most held in contempt, when His law is most despised, then should our zeal be the warmest and our courage and firmness the most unflinching. To stand in defense of truth and righteousness when the majority forsake us, to fight the battles of the Lord when champions are few—this will be our test.” Testimonies, vol. 5, 136.
You will find in John chapter 1 the story of John the Baptist and an account of an incident that took place during his public ministry. John was a faithful minister in the church of God, but was not recognized as such. God raised up a voice crying in the wilderness; it was a prophetic ministry clearly outlining the Scriptures yet the ministers had no true understanding of John’s call to do a work of revival and reformation.
John 1:19 says, “And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou?” They knew his family history, that John’s father was a priest after the normal order and who he was after the flesh. The question they asked was a statement of doubt. We don’t recognize you; we don’t endorse you; we don’t have any connection with you. We don’t see a legal connection with you and the church that we believe we have control over and we don’t see your messages in harmony with ours. We don’t recognize your theology. We don’t recognize your messages and your way of explaining the Scriptures. We do not recognize who you are because you are definitely not like us. So they asked, “Who are you?”
John 1:20–23 says, “And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ. And they asked him, What then? Art thou Elias?” They knew that Malachi had said that Elias, or Elijah was supposed to come before Christ would come. “And he saith, I am not.” They really believed that Elijah was to come from the dead. The questioning continued, “Art thou that prophet?” (This refers to Moses, see The Desire of Ages, 135.) This was said in mocking and doubting. “Who art thou? that we may give an answer to them that sent us. What sayest thou of thyself?” Because they did not understand the simplest things, he answered their question prophetically. “He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias (Isaiah).”
When John was asked who he was, he did not attempt to give a history of his birth, or his parents or his physical baptism, but simply stated that his identity and foundation of belief was the word of God. He could tell them exactly where his work was prophesied in the Scriptures and he fully understood his role as the present truth of that time. Do you understand exactly where you stand when it comes to the prophecies of the last days? Are you able, as did John, to show others where you stand because you know what God has called you to do today?
John said, “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord.” The Scripture he quoted was Isaiah 40:3 which says, “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” The job of this voice was to prepare the way for Christ to come. It says, “… make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” So in preparing for Christ to come the way must be made straight in the desert, a highway.
There is a broad way and a narrow way. John’s mission was to direct the people to the narrow way and to prepare a people to find Christ in this way. Verse 3 continues: “… make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Verses 4 and 5: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”
This prophecy was one most definite, “for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Through the power of God the high things would be brought down and the things that were abased, or despised would be exalted. The message would be crying out from the wilderness and doing the work in the desert.
John was literally in the desert that ran by the river Jordan. This was a very desolate place but because of the power of God it began to spring up and bud. The high things, even the scribes and the Pharisees, were abased and brought low in the messages that he spoke. Those who were despised of Israel, because of the converting power of God were brought high and exalted. The power of the message, even though the leadership did not recognize him, was a message of God and it was powerful enough to bring down the mountains.
There were many other preachers in Israel that were supposed to give the message. This included the Levites but they did not recognize the work of John or understand his role or the message he brought to the people. Before the second advent of Christ, there will be people who will stand in the power and spirit of Elijah and do a similar work.
“Crying” has a prophetic application. Isaiah 58:1 says, “Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression.” This is all tied in with this voice—this message was to bring Israel to repentance by revealing the transgressions of Israel, bring down the high things and exalt that which was low. In a nutshell, this was the message of John the Baptist. The Levites, scribes and Pharisees were not giving this message, neither was the general church population and God rose up another to do the work.
Christ spoke through John when he preached in the wilderness. John gave those who would not listen to the clear admonitions answers that must be understood prophetically. The Scriptures explain the meaning of the words “crying in the wilderness.” “Neither said they, Where is the Lord that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, that led us through the wilderness, through a land of deserts and of pits, through a land of drought, and of the shadow of death, through a land that no man passed through, and where no man dwelt?” Jeremiah 2:6. To be in the wilderness means to be in a place where there is drought, a desert, a pit and the shadow of death. A land where no man passed through and no man dwelt. In this place John was to raise up a highway for the Lord. A highway is where many people have access. John, among all of those claiming to be waiting for God, gave his message faithfully, the way God would give it.
John was in the desert, literally and figuratively, standing in the position as a prophet and a preacher where no man dwelt. How many pass through the Scriptures in such a way as John did to give the message?
John claimed to be a “voice crying in the wilderness;” like Isaiah, he preached a message that was not popular in his day. There were many people preaching, even some associated with Isaiah, but theirs was not the same message, a voice calling for repentance. No rebuke of sin was heard in their message. They were very gentle and careful about wounding and hurting people’s feelings. Neither John nor Isaiah was unfeeling, but they would rather obey God than men. There was a definite message to be given and it could only be given from the wilderness—a place where not many men pass through.
Many who preach want their fellow associates in the ministry to believe and stand with them. John stood alone; His was a message that came directly from God. He did not preach his own ideas about what he considered truth. Today, those who give the message in a straight line, must also dwell in obscurity, in the wilderness where few preachers will stand and give the straight testimony.
There were many preachers in John’s day. Nicodemus was over many ministers but he did not understand the first thing about God, so John stood alone to give his message. He was not the first; every prophet that God sent to Israel was crying in the wilderness and out of harmony with the theology of his day. None of them were popular and were all rebuked and cast off by the church.
“Those who have been thrust out to bear a plain, pointed testimony, in the fear of God to reprove wrong, to labor with all their energies to build up God’s people, and to establish them upon important points of present truth, have too often received censure [rebuke] instead of sympathy and help, while those who, like yourself, [from a personal testimony] have taken a noncommittal position [jewelry—do not like it but don’t deal with it and say if you want to wear jewelry that is fine; dress—come as you are; music—well everybody has to be persuaded in their own minds; I just deal with Jesus. I want to be noncommittal and not take any clear position in the church. I want to stay on the fence where it is safe. What does the elder say about that? These people dwell where many men pass through] are thought to be devoted, and to have a mild spirit. God does not thus regard them. The forerunner of Christ’s first advent was a very plain-spoken man. He rebuked sin, and called things by their right names. He laid the ax at the root of the tree. He thus addressed one class of professed converts who came to be baptized of him in Jordan: ‘O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance. … And now also the ax is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire’ (Matthew 3:7–10).” Testimonies, vol. 1, 321. Consider the next line: “In this fearful time, just before Christ is to come the second time, God’s faithful preachers will have to bear a still more pointed testimony than was borne by John the Baptist. A responsible, important work is before them; and those who speak smooth things, God will not acknowledge as His shepherds. A fearful woe is upon them.” Ibid.
A fearful woe will be upon the great majority of the clergy because they want to preach smoothly and want to be non-committal and have people see them as being mild. Here we come to the end of time where people desire smooth things and now we are to give a more pointed testimony than John the Baptist. How many do not desire to dwell in the wilderness, but want to preach in Jerusalem and in the big synagogue and go up higher? John’s message was to bring the high things low.
“In every age, God has called his servants to lift up their voices against the prevailing errors and sins of the multitude. Noah was called to stand alone to warn the antediluvian world. Moses and Aaron were alone against kings and princes, magicians and wise men, and the multitudes of Egypt. Elijah was alone when he testified against an apostate king and a backsliding people. Daniel and his fellows stood alone against the decrees of mighty monarchs. The majority are usually to be found on the side of error and falsehood. The fact that doctors of divinity have the world on their side does not prove them to be on the side of truth and of God. The wide gate and the broad road attract the multitudes, while the strait gate and the narrow way are sought only by the few.” The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 4, 214.
There are many people preaching the message but how many are preaching a message that God would recognize. I ask myself that same question—am I preaching God’s message—will God pass by me and say “I never knew you” (Matthew 7:23)?
Elijah, Moses, Noah, all of these people stood alone to preach the truth. These men were voices crying in the wilderness. Many people may wish to be like Elijah and Moses but they do not want to stand alone. They would rather try to harmonize with the brethren and yield the truth instead of standing for the right. I hope you don’t know anybody like that.
There is an amazing quotation found in Prophets and Kings, 367. There was no cloudiness in Isaiah’s message; it was clear truth. It says, “Throughout his ministry Isaiah bore a plain testimony concerning God’s purpose for the heathen. Other prophets had made mention of the divine plan, but their language was not always understood. To Isaiah it was given to make very plain to Judah the truth that among the Israel of God were to be numbered many who were not descendants of Abraham after the flesh. This teaching was not in harmony with the theology of his age, (Isaiah’s message was considered error and very divisive) yet he fearlessly proclaimed the messages given him of God and brought hope to many a longing heart reaching out after the spiritual blessings promised to the seed of Abraham.”
Even today people are confused about who and what comprises the church or who are faithful and who are not.
People wonder why there are some who do not preach like the majority, to be accepted. In Christ’s Object Lessons, 78, 79, it says, “For His church in every generation God has a special truth and a special work. The truth that is hid from the worldly wise and prudent is revealed to the child-like and humble. It calls for self-sacrifice. It has battles to fight and victories to win. At the outset its advocates are few. By the great men of the world and by a world-conforming church, they are opposed and despised. See John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, standing alone to rebuke the pride and formalism of the Jewish nation. See the first bearers of the gospel into Europe. How obscure, how hopeless, seemed the mission of Paul and Silas, the two tentmakers, as they with their companions took ship at Troas for Philippi. See ‘Paul the aged,’ in chains, preaching Christ in the stronghold of the Caesars. See the little communities of slaves and peasants in conflict with the heathenism of imperial Rome. See Martin Luther withstanding that mighty church which is the masterpiece of the world’s wisdom. See him holding fast God’s word against emperor and pope, declaring, ‘Here I take my stand; I cannot do otherwise. God be my help.’ (Martin Luther was crying in the wilderness, crying all alone.) See John Wesley preaching Christ and His righteousness in the midst of formalism, sensualism, and infidelity. See one burdened with the woes of the heathen world, pleading for the privilege of carrying to them Christ’s message of love. Hear the response of ecclesiasticism: ‘Sit down, young man. When God wants to convert the heathen, He will do it without your help or mine.’
“The great leaders of religious thought in this generation sound the praises and build the monuments of those who planted the seed of truth centuries ago. Do not many turn from this work to trample down the growth springing from the same seed today? [The same truths of this generation are trying to be stomped out.] The old cry is repeated, ‘We know that God spake unto Moses; as for this fellow [Christ in the messenger He sends], we know not from whence he is’ (John 9:29). As in earlier ages, the special truths for this time are found, not with the ecclesiastical authorities, but with men and women who are not too learned or too wise to believe the word of God.”
The voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the paths of the Lord. It may be more possible now that we may not even hear the message for the time. Remember that John was not only literally in the desert, but also was that great body of preachers and ministers supposedly bringing the revival message. John was someone who was seemingly standing alone in the midst of all of these methods and interpretations and even theories about revival and reformation. This work of preparation was going on all over and Jesus passed by all the Essenes, the Pharisees and schools of theology and came right to John the Baptist and suffered him to fulfill all righteousness. Jesus saw that his work would fulfill righteousness.
“I was shown that even this decided message of the True Witness had not accomplished the design of God. The people [the remnant church] slumber on in their sins. They continue to declare themselves rich and having need of nothing [even Christ and the forgiveness of sins]. Many inquire: Why are all these reproofs given? Why do the Testimonies continually charge us with backsliding and with grievous sins? [Many cannot see it—either the testimonies are wrong or they are right.] We love the truth; we are prospering; we are in no need of these testimonies of warning and reproof. But let these murmurers see their hearts and compare their lives with the practical teachings of the Bible, let them humble their souls before God, let the grace of God illuminate the darkness, and the scales will fall from their eyes, and they will realize their true spiritual poverty and wretchedness. They will feel the necessity of buying gold, which is pure faith and love; white raiment, which is a spotless character made pure in the blood of their dear Redeemer; and eyesalve, which is the grace of God and which will give clear discernment of spiritual things and detect sin. These attainments are more precious than the gold of Ophir.” Testimonies, vol. 3, 254.
Without the grace which is shown as being white raiment, eyesalve and gold, we cannot have true spiritual discernment. We will not be able to detect sin under any guise. Remember that “he [Satan] will work with ‘all power and signs and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved’ (II Thessalonians 2:9, 10)” [Testimonies, vol. 2, 172, 173] and it will be near impossible to distinguish between truth and error except by the Spirit of God and the word of God.
Brothers and sisters, we need that eyesalve, that raiment, that gold tried in the fire but how many are willing to receive this message. How many are willing to stand alone and give this message and be a voice crying in the wilderness in these last days, these evil days. How many are willing to stand alone though the majority forsakes us. How many are ready to stand with Jesus.
Two thieves were crucified with Jesus, one on one side and one on the other and even though they both reviled Him, one was converted. One said to remember him when he came into His kingdom. Jesus had something to strengthen Him in his last hours. That cloud covered Jesus and He was wrapped in thick darkness while lightening crashed and thunder rolled throughout the heaven and he could not be seen and He was all alone wrestling with God. He was suffering the agony of separation from God for you and for me. Jesus knew what it meant to be alone.
In these last days, though we may be in the crowd, or in the forest, we will, in our spiritual experience, have to stand alone with God. If God would send someone to stand by your side and to preach with you, you will still have your hand firmly in His. Though we may have mother, father, brother, sister, pastor, standing with us our hands must be in Christ’s hands alone. We must all be a voice crying in the wilderness, a land where “no man passed through and where no man dwelt.” Jeremiah 2:6.
May we all see the importance of this divine truth and that we understand that the popular, the easy side, is not the side of God. “As the storm approaches, a large class who have professed faith in the third angel’s message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls.” The Great Controversy, 608.
All those who desire to be on the popular and easy side will go over there when the storm approaches. We need a fitting up, a preparation that is greater than what we now know. We need an understanding of truth greater than what we now possess so that we may stand.
[All emphasis supplied.]
John R. Cofer is currently engaged in establishing training schools under the name, The Schools of the Prophets for the youth. He and his wife, Maria, have established a digital media company to create and promote video media teaching the unique message of Adventism using social media such as Facebook and YouTube.