Prepare the way for the Lord
John the Baptist
By any account, John the Baptist was a very different man, weird, some would say. Thrust suddenly into confronting and chiding the civilized world, he was the wild man from the desert, and God had made him so. John’s conception and birth were well-chronicled. “And the child grew and became strong in spirit; and he lived in the desert until he appeared publicly to Israel.” Just what was this desert, and what did it do to a person? This one who was called to “Prepare the way,” how was he himself prepared?
A north-south ridge of mountains divides Israel. The western slope receives the bulk of the rain blowing east from the Mediterranean, but the eastern slope is much drier, receiving less than 12 inches a year in the southern parts east of Jerusalem and Hebron. To this day there are few towns in this desert land. Jericho in the Jordan Valley exists only because of springs that make life possible. But this is where John grew up and lived. His father was a priest who lived in “a town in the hill country of Judea. More and more, John would spend his time in the desolate Judean mountains east of the ridge and roam the deserted arid plains of Jordan north of the Dead Sea. This became his home. We do not know of any job he held, rather he is pictured as a strange and lonely man who had learned to live off the land.
There in the wilderness God had become his companion, his confidant, his teacher. In a phrase reminiscent of the calling of Old Testament prophets, “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert”. In the desert, John came to know God better than people, and when God fully owned his heart and allegiance, John was ready.
Who in the world did John think he was?
What does this kind of desert hermit life do to a person? It produces someone who really does not care what “civilized” people think about him. John did not structure his life in relation to societal norms and expectations, so when he burst upon the scene as a desert preacher, his words were unrefined, blunt, and uncompromising.
Why would God use an eccentric, a maverick, a “loose cannon” in such a crucial role? Because the ordinary person would have bent too easily to the extreme religious and political pressures that came to bear on John. This is why at times we have to distance ourselves from the norm and go on retreat or create a barrier from the outside world. This we do in order to allow God to transform us.
God fashioned John to be very different. Do you sometimes worry that you are “different,” that you do not conform to the average, to the norm of society? Trust God. Your differences may be his design to fit you for a very special task and mission. As we close this last chapter of 2018, I urge you to distance yourself from the familiar territory of your life and wait upon the Lord.
Who in the world did John think he was? He said, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord’ ” (John 1:23). This quotation from Isaiah 40:3ff is quoted more fully in Luke, following the Greek Septuagint translation with which Luke was familiar:
Prepare the way for the Lord
“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.
What a clear image of major road works to prepare the King’s highway, straightening the curves, as well as cutting and filling so that the road might be level and easy to travel upon. To cut through the mountains of our pride, to fill up the valleys of our despair, to straighten our crooked moral rationalizations, and make us fit for the King himself to travel upon. For God desires us to be ready followers, quick to say yes, and free of obstacles that destroy our confidence and ability to serve him, so that “all mankind” will be able to see in us “God’s salvation” (3:6). Major road works, that is what is ahead of us as ZINAFE and disciples of Christ as we wait upon the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.