Luke 3:1-6 (NIV) In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar–when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene–during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet: “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.'”
God’s call came to John in the wilderness at exactly the right time to get a sizeable number of people ready for the Messiah’s appearing. During the time when John was preaching, Jesus was still living in Nazareth. He was constantly listening for God’s voice telling Him that the time had arrived, and was keeping Himself physically and spiritually strong, so that nothing would have to be one when God’s call came except to go.
John’s job was to prepare the people for the coming of the one who was greater than him. His focus was to show people their sinfulness, all of the places where their actions and attitudes did not comply with God’s law, and urge them to repent, to turn away from those sinful actions and attitudes, and turn back to God. And when they agreed, he baptized them in the Jordan River, symbolizing both a washing away of their sins and a fresh start.
Isaiah had been shown John’s preparatory ministry, and wrote a picturesque description of it in chapter 40, verses 3-5 of his book. He heard a voice crying out from the wilderness that the Lord was coming, and that it was time to prepare the way for Him. The picture is one of getting the roads ready for a visiting potentate, with all potholes being filled in, the low places in the road that tended to become muddy being filled in with rock, and all of the bumps being smoothed out.
But Isaiah went even further, painting a picture of such thorough preparation that the hills themselves were torn down and the valleys filled in to make a level road that would be welcoming to the arriving King. And this was actually a very good picture of the preparation work that John had been sent to do. The average person didn’t have just a few small potholes to be filled in, just a couple sections of washboard road to be graded. The average person then, like today, had mountains of sin that needed to be brought low, and deep holes in their relationship with God that needed to be filled in, as well as numerous crooked ways that needed to be straightened. John’s job, his whole purpose for being, was to help people to recognize these realities, and to help them begin the process of renovation and restoration by leading them to repentance.
Father, this really is quite a graphic picture of what sin does in our lives, raising up high mountains of brokenness and dysfunction, and putting large holes in our relationship with You and with others. And what a great picture of repentance, as preparation for the coming of Jesus into our lives and hearts, recalibrating our lives so that they are reoriented and realigned with You and Your commands. Help me to always stay alert to any place in my heart where I am allowing sin to degrade Your ways. And if I find any, help me to repent immediately, so that Your ways are always straight and smooth in my heart. Amen.