“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.’”
He served at the time when Tiberius Caesar was emperor at Rome. Pontius Pilate was governor of the Roman province called Judea. Herod ruled for the Romans over Galilee and his brother, Phillip, over Iturea and Traconitis in what is now called Syria. A fellow named Lysanias ruled for the Romans in nearby Abilene.
Those names and places may not mean too much to us now, but this official information is critical to establish when, where, and how the famous John the Baptist carried out his mission.
John was not in the chain-of-command of the Roman rulers. He served under the one named Jehovah, Lord of all.
He was called to duty before he was born. He soldiered on until they cut off his head.
He was not an officer in the U.S. Armed Forces, but he surely knew how to command attention.
His assignment was to relay the message the Lord God had given to Isaiah some 700 years before. Aboard a U.S. ship, such a message might have been introduced with a “Now hear this!” Since John was not a sailor, we might better picture him calling out: “Ten hut!”
Recruits into the U.S. military quickly learn what it means to come to attention. Not only must the body conform to the prescribed stance, but the mind must also snap to attention.
“Don’t worry about what is happening around you!” “Stop talking!” “Focus your mind on the officer.” “Pay attention now!” is expressed with a simple but forceful, “Ten hut!”
That’s much like the way John the Baptist commanded the attention of those who came out to the deserted wilds to see him. The Holy Spirit relays the message to us as the words are carried over the folds of time by the Holy Scriptures.
The order begins: “Prepare the way for the Lord!”
The picture is given of a road being built. It’s as if the Lord of glory will use that road to enter our hearts.
It’s as if we hear John say, “Ten hut! Straighten out your life!”
The way of God lies in a straight line with truth and right. We tend to bend around unpleasant truths and come up with excuses to detour off the straight and narrow.
Do we think God does not notice that?
Furthermore, at times our lives sink to new lows. Satan tempts us to think it would not be so bad to wander for a while in the valley of sin. Our sinful nature delights in that way of life—much like a pig loves to roll in the mud.
“Every valley shall be filled in….” Are we paying attention?
But the heights also appeal to us. Pride, arrogance and prejudice call out, “I’m better than many!” “I am smarter than most.” “I am above the law.”
The law of God shouts out: “… every mountain and hill made low.”
There is nothing we can boast of before God. Everything good in our life is a gift from him. The bad?
That’s on us: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind, our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
Our messed-up life? “The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.”
Yet, John the Baptist does not call us to attention only to have us admit our failures, but to point us to our victory over sin, death, and the devil.
“And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”
Pointing to Jesus, John said: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
We better look. We better listen. We better believe. This is a matter of life or death.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, we have so much going on in our lives. There is so much that distracts us and still more that attracts us. Thank you for drawing our attention to the message from the mouth of John the Baptist. Focus our attention upon Jesus, that we may follow him home to victory. Amen.
Written by Rev. Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military, Belle Plaine, Minnesota.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. Note: Scripture reading footnotes are clickable only in the web version.