Luke 3:2-6 2 During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the desert. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 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. 5 Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. 6 And all mankind will see God’s salvation.'”
John the Baptist lived up to his calling. He went around preaching a message about repenting from sin and receiving forgiveness after your heart is right with God. Forgiveness doesn’t come without repentance. John the Baptist was sent to prepare people not just to hear something different, something new, but to live differently, to walk in newness of life. His ministry was a ministry to people’s hearts to ready them for Jesus. Religion can ready a mind and influence behavior, but only an experience with Jesus can change a person from the inside out.
I learned as I prepared for this message that in ancient times when a king would travel in the desert, servants would go ahead of him to actually clear debris and to smooth out roads to make sure his trip would be easier. The idea of preparing the way for a king was really a thing. When Luke quotes Isaiah in verse six and says, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth” in a very literal sense, as much as possible, that is what would happen when a king would travel. People would go ahead to make his moving about as easy as possible.
John the Baptist was going to try to smooth out the landscape of people’s hearts to enable Jesus to come, to preach and teach, and to enable people to receive the messages Jesus would proclaim. In one sense, John would do the “heart work” so the “hard work” was done and people were ready to receive Jesus.
In a very real sense, you and I are called to be “preparers of the way” for people to hear and see Jesus. How can we fill in valleys, level mountains and hills, straighten out crooked paths and make rough ways smooth so that more and more people can see, hear, and experience Jesus? What is our role in clearing the way for the King?
I think first of all, we have to prepare the way verbally. John wasn’t a quiet Christian. He was passionate. He was determined to be heard. We can’t prepare the way for people to experience Jesus if we never talk about Him. We need to cultivate a passion for testifying about our relationship with God.
I grew up hearing there were two things you shouldn’t discuss in public. Religion and politics. Well, we know at least part of that rule has been set aside because political debates are raging, right? I would venture to say politics has taken the top spot everywhere in conversation. Why can’t we just go ahead and set aside the second part of that rule and see if Jesus can’t take overtake politics for the top spot?
How can Christians justify silence about the Savior when we read Scriptures like this: Matthew 5:14-16 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
“What if the darkness in the world is in direct correlation to the faithfulness of God’s people to shine the light?”
I think sometimes we think the darkness and chaos in this world is just the result of sin running rampant. I agree that sin is rampant, but what if it isn’t a sin problem that is the “reason” for the chaos in our culture as much as it is a light problem, a disobedience of God’s people to shine the light? We need to shine the light by talking about Jesus.
Secondly, I think we need to prepare the way illustratively. We need to live like followers of Christ. This was also part of John’s message in Luke 3:7ff
7 John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.
Our lives are supposed to bear fruit. People are supposed to be able to see from our actions that our hearts belong to God and are right with Him. We cannot just proclaim faith, but we must produce fruit in our lives. In other words, we need to walk our talk.
John the Baptist went on and talked about the consequences for Christians who won’t bear fruit:
9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”
That sounds serious, right? Why is this fruit thing so important? Bearing fruit is critical because it proof to those who are watching that God is real. The fruit is the evidence that God is truly living in us and is producing the life of Christ in us. So the people listening to John the Baptist got really serious and they asked in verse 10:
10“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.
John gave them some action steps that would illustrate to those who were watching that knowing Jesus and following Him make a difference in the way we live.
11 John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”
In other words, John said, “Be generous.” Generosity is a way to illustrate that you love the Lord and are seeking to live out His life. Christian people should be the most generous people on the planet. Isn’t God generous with us? Haven’t we been blessed as His children? We are to pay that blessing forward.
Right behind the crowd were the tax collectors. Verse 12:
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?” 13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.
What is our takeaway from John’s answer here? It’s simply this: Be honest. Christians who lie and cheat and skirt tax paying and income reporting and who look for loopholes in order to fly under some radar for a personal benefit aren’t illustrating the life of Christ. Jesus said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” (Matthew 22:21) We are called to be honest. We don’t fudge reports and tell half-truths also known as lies, in order to look good or to help someone else look good. If it is cheating on any level, it is wrong.
Well, after the crowd and the tax collectors, some soldiers asked John the same question in verse 14:
“And what should we do?” He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely–be content with your pay.” John helped them understand the life of a Christ-follower is a life of contentment. We need to be content. We aren’t living for more and more of the things of this world, but for more and more of Jesus.
I am urging you to be bold for the Lord in 2020. There are some valleys to build up, some mountains to tear down, some paths to straighten out, some dark places to light up, and that can happen and will happen if we will prepare the way for Jesus verbally and illustratively. May people not only hear about Jesus from us, but may they see Him living His life though ours as we bear the fruit of generosity, honesty, and contentment.