“He went into all the vicinity of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: ‘A voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight! Every valley will be filled, and every mountain and hill will be made low; the crooked will become straight, the rough ways smooth, and everyone will see the salvation of God.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
One of those unwritten laws of physics is that things in motion try to find the path of least resistance in order to get where they are going. One of the places we see this in action is on a college campus where lots of people are commuting on foot each day. There may be nice, clean sidewalks to get everywhere you need to go, but there will also inevitably be some well-worn dirt paths where people have left the sidewalks in order to get where they are going by a more direct, shorter route. Let’s talk this morning about what this has to do with our lives and getting ready for Jesus.
John was called to prepare the people to receive the Messiah when He came. That was his life’s mission. It was literally what he was made for. We don’t know a single thing about his childhood or adolescence. What we do know, though, is that sometime after he turned 30, he came wandering out of the wilderness regions of Israel near the Jordan River east of Jerusalem and started calling the people to repentance. They were to repent of their sins. They were then to be baptized as a symbol of their repentance. This was all done to get them ready to receive the Messiah’s message of repentance when He arrived and began proclaiming it.
Luke tells us here that John’s doing this was a fulfillment of a prophecy spoken by Isaiah some 700 years earlier. Isaiah, in context, was proclaiming the advent of God’s compassion for and restoration of the people. They had been assured of judgment for their sins, but God never ends with judgment in His approach to us. He always come back around to redemption. In the verses immediately preceding this quote, Isaiah says this: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.” What powerful words of hope! They would know this comfort and restoration was coming when this voice of one crying out in the wilderness appeared.
God’s invitations to repentance often come from unexpected places and people. Surely John didn’t have the look of someone who would be used powerfully by God, yet his ministry was significant enough than even several years later, after Jesus had revealed Himself, died, and rose again, His followers were still discovering John’s disciples around the region. Yet his ministry was never about him. It was always about preparing the people for Jesus. He was to help them prepare their lives so that Jesus’ message had the smoothest, straightest route to their hearts and minds it possibly could.
This is what I want us to think about for just a second this morning. When it comes to your own engagement with the message of Jesus, how straight is the route from your eyes and ears to your heart and mind? Is there a broad avenue free from clutter and obstacles, or is the way littered with garbage and potholes? What kinds of things do you have blocking the way? Are there bad habits that need to be eliminated? Is there relational brokenness that you need to address so that you can relate more fully and freely with Jesus? Do you have forgiveness that needs to be granted? Are there any strongholds of sin that need to be destroyed? How can you smooth out the path for Jesus to reach your heart?
Now, I should add one note here: Jesus’ message can still reach you no matter what lies in the way. Like the rainwater flowing in abundance around my town this morning, His living water can navigate around whatever obstacles lie in its path until it reaches the bottom of your heart to begin filling you with the hope and help of the Gospel. This idea of creating smooth pathways for His grace to follow should not by any means be taken to imply that you need to first get yourself in shape the receive it before it can do its work in you. Your faith in Him is all your need and that can indeed be meager at the beginning. What this is about is helping us think through the things that could slow that progress by some measure in order that the Gospel’s work in our lives can come faster and more easily. It can work either way, but the easier we make it, the better off we will be.
Yet let’s not limit things only to ourselves here. John’s call was to prepare others. What are some things you can be doing to help get someone else’s life in shape to receive the Gospel more easily? What kinds of pre-discipleship efforts can you be doing in the lives of your children or your neighbors or your coworkers so that they will be more ready to hear the message of Jesus when it comes for them? Be intentional about demonstrating the love and kindness of Jesus for them. Put on display His mercy and compassion. Serve them selflessly so they can see the humility of Christ in action. Help them remove obstacles so the Gospel can flow more smoothly; so they can be ready for Christ’s advent.
Take some time today to reflect on what your obstacles may be and how you can remove those from your life. Prepare yourself for Jesus. Then, be intentional about giving this gift to another.