“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—2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘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 people will see God’s salvation.’”[a] (Luke 3.1-6)
If you have been celebrating Christmas, or reading along with my “Ten Days of Christmas” then moving directly into the Gospel of Luke is a natural and beautiful follow up to the Christmas story as portrayed in Luke and Matthew.
Jesus has been born. All the fanfare of the birth in Bethlehem is over. Jesus has been dedicated in the temple. Herod has failed in his attempt to kill the child and been replaced as ruler of Judea. Now, another messianic prophecy in Isaiah 40.3-5 is about to be fulfilled thru Jesus’ cousin John the Baptist.
“A voice of one calling the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.” John is that prophet. He and Jesus are now both thirty and “the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” He knew it was the time. And so John “went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
This was a new approach. Baptism had not been used as a representation for forgiveness of sins but for ritualistic cleansing in places called ”mikvehs” which I’ve seen all over Israel. The people would take their animals to the Temple and there, with the shedding of blood, they would receive atonement — instant cleansing. But now, here was this long-haired, camel-coat-wearing, looking like an Old Testament prophet preaching a new method — baptism as a forgiveness of sins. (See https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/tools/video-gallery/o/origins-of-baptism).
John must have caused quite a stir. Imagine what people said when they heard him quoting from Prophet Isaiah, “All people will see God’s salvation.” It certainly must have been hopeful. For God had been silent thus far, save for the birth of Jesus. The period from the Old to New Covenant was a period of 400 years which scholars call the intertestamental period. (For more read https://www.gotquestions.org/intertestamental-period.html).
John’s mission was to “prepare the way.” There was no way we could be completely holy before Jesus came, as he is the one who makes us holy, but we could be on our way. It could be a step towards God’s prevenient grace, the grace the comes before salvation. This aspect of God’s grace, according to John Wesley, draws us to himself, wooing our souls to his love, inviting us into his loving arms and his salfivic plan. John came not to save us but to awaken us to the fact that salvation is coming. His was a “voice calling out in the wilderness” to “make straight paths” for the Lord.
How do unholy people prepare for a God encounter? We take care of business by making ourselves receptive to grace. We repent, we do not sin, we walk in holiness. John was encouraging baptism as a sign of this movement of the heart. He knew one would come whose sandal he was not worthy to untie. He was helping people get ready for an encounter with a Holy God.
Jesus was and is that God. What John preached twenty centuries ago still applies today. If we want to meet Jesus, receive him into our hearts, then we must move towards repentance, run from sin, and allow him to purify our hearts and minds.
What a beautiful gift God gave us at Christmas through the birth of Jesus. Now let’s return the favor and give Jesus the gift of our souls. Let us turn from sin and toward the coming Savior so that the whole might know wholeness, hope and one day, Heaven.
“O Lord God. Come again Lord Jesus! Walk afresh among us! Thank you John for preparing the way and for alerting us to his Presence. Come now. Holy Spirit, fill us with your power and love. Help us turn from the wickedness and the sin that so easily entangles. Help us die to the flesh and live according to the Spirit. For you are good and your love endures forever.” Amen