"Make A Straight Way For The Lord"
Sunday of Week 3 in Advent
Jn. 1:6-8, 19-28
On the Third Sunday of every Advent the Church helps us to prepare for Christ’s coming at Christmas by presenting us with John the Baptist. John the Baptist was unique. He wore odd clothes and ate strange food and preached an unusual message to the Judeans who went to the desert to see him. John knew he was the one chosen by God to announce the coming of the Saviour of the world. He put all his energies into this task. Luke tells us that John was in the wilderness when God’s word of direction came to him. John was ready and waiting. The angel who had announced John’s birth to his father Zachary had made it clear this child was to be a Nazarite – one set apart for God’s service. John remained faithful to his calling.
This wild looking man had no power or position in the Jewish political system, but he spoke with almost irresistible authority. People were moved by his words because he spoke the truth, challenging them to turn from their sins and baptising them as a symbol of repentance. They responded by the hundreds. But even as people crowded to listen to him, he pointed beyond himself, never forgetting that his main role was to announce the coming of the Saviour.
The words of truth that moved many to repentance goaded others to resistance and resentment. It is amazing that John even challenged Herod to admit his sin. Herod had illegally married Herodias and John told him this was wrong. Herodias was angry and decided to get rid of this wilderness preacher. Although she was able to have him killed, she was not able to stop his message. The One John had announced was already doing His work. John had accomplished his mission.
God has given each of us a purpose for living, and we can trust Him to guide us. John did not have the complete Bible as we know it today, but he focused his life on the truth he knew from the available Old Testament Scriptures. Likewise, we can discover in God’s Word the truths He wants us to know. And as these truths work in us, others will be drawn to Him. God can use you in a way He can use no one else. Let Him know your willingness to follow Him today.
We, like John the Baptist, are not the source of God’s light; we merely reflect that light. Jesus Christ is the true Light; He helps us to see our way to God and shows us how to walk along that way. But Christ has chosen to reflect His light through His followers to an unbelieving world, perhaps because unbelievers are not able to bear the full blazing glory of His light firsthand. The word witness indicates our role as reflectors of Christ’s light. We are never to present ourselves as the light to others, but are always to point them to Christ, the Light.
The priests and Levites were respected religious leaders in Jerusalem. Priests served in the temple, and Levites assisted them. The leaders who came to see John were Pharisees, a group that both John the Baptist and Jesus denounced. Many of them outwardly obeyed God’s laws, looking pious, while inwardly their hearts were filled with pride and greed. The Pharisees believed that their oral traditions were just as important as God’s inspired Word.
These leaders came to John for several reasons. First, their duty as guardians of the faith caused them to want to investigate any new preaching. Second, they wanted to find out if John had the credentials of a prophet. And third, they were worried and probably jealous that John had quite a following, and it was growing.
Pharisees thought John might be either the prophet foretold by Moses (Deut. 18:15); or Elijah (Malachi 4:5); or the Prophet or even the Messiah. John denied being any of these and called himself in the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “A voice that cries in the wilderness: Make a straight way for the Lord”. (Is. 40:3). The leaders kept pressing John to say who he was but he emphasised only why he had come – to prepare the way for the Messiah. The Pharisees missed the point. They wanted to know who John was, but John wanted them to know who Jesus was.
John was baptising Jews. The Essenes (a strict, monastic sect of Judaism) practised baptism for purification, but normally only non-Jews were baptised when they converted to Judaism. When the Pharisees questioned John’s authority to baptise, they were asking who gave John the right to treat God’s chosen people like Gentiles. John said, “I baptise with water” – thus he was merely helping the people to perform a symbolic act of repentance. But soon one would come who would truly forgive sins, something only the Son of God – the Messiah – could do.
John the Baptist said he was not even worthy to be Christ’s slave, to perform the humble task of loosening the strap of His sandals. But according to Lk. 7:28, Jesus said that John was the greatest of all the prophets. If such a great person felt inadequate even to be Christ’s slave how much more should we lay aside our pride to serve Christ! When we truly understand who Christ is, our pride and self-importance melt away.
Looking at John’s life we see a man who was so focused on making Jesus known. As we study his life today, he is still pointing us in the direction of Jesus.
Lord Jesus, we have to admit that John the Baptist is the person best suited to prepare us for Your joyful coming this Christmas. Let us listen carefully to his words to repent and make a straight way for You.