And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:3-6; cf. Matthew 3:3-6)
Reading these verses on their own today I was struck by a question I’ve never thought of before: Why was it necessary for someone to come before Jesus? Generally I blow past these verses, assuming that John is only mentioned as another way to tie Christ to OT prophecy – another piece of evidence that Jesus is the Promised One. In reading these verses that way, however, I think I have missed out on a key insight into our relationship with Christ.
In both verses we see that the role of John the Baptist is to call attention to the coming of the Messiah by preparing the hearts of the people. He does that primarily by calling for recognition of personal sin and encouraging a desire for repentance. I think that’s what Isaiah is getting at in Luke 3:5-6 when he speaks of the valley and the mountain. The former refers to the destitute – those who are deeply in despair over their sin. The latter refers to the proud – those who have allowed self-righteousness to cloud their need for salvation and redemption. The message of John the Baptist speaks to both groups by first giving hope of forgiveness to those in despair and second providing a dose reality in revealing the total depravity of those steeped in pride. The crooked and rough places also seem to linguistically refer to these two groups. John’s message, therefore, is a way to level the playing field. If valleys are filled and mountains are made low, if crooked paths are straightened and rough places are leveled off, then what we’re left with is even ground. This is essential to Isaiah’s conclusion that “all flesh can see the salvation of God.” There are no proud mountains to block one’s view and no desperate valleys to get lost in. We are all equal in our need.
This preparation and “leveling” is still essential today to our personal relationship with the Lord as well as our evangelism efforts. As we preach the gospel to ourselves and share the Good News with others, we must always start by recognizing sin and desiring repentance. It’s from this beginning that we are led to our knees and an understanding of our great need. Before the gospel can be beautiful and Christ can be merciful, we must come to terms with our sin and dare to hope that our good God can provide a solution. If we are wallowing in a valley of despair over our sin, we will not believe that Christ could or would save us. If we are clinging to a mountain of pride, then we will consider Christ unnecessary for our salvation and for our daily lives. We must start at the beginning. Like John the Baptist, we must prepare the way for the Savior in our own hearts and in the hearts of those we hope to bring into the fold.
Discipleship Challenge: In conversation today consider the following:
With Christian family members/disciples/friends – Ask for ideas on how we as Christians can continue to see our daily need for Christ. How can we guard our hearts against pride and self-righteousness?
With Non-Christian family members/friends – Try to begin a conversation about sin. One way to do that is to ask if they believe people are inherently good or inherently evil. Realize that, based on their response, you may not immediately be able to share the gospel. This may just be a fact-finding mission to determine the major hurdles they will have to overcome in their relationship with the Lord. This does not mean you have failed! If their hearts are prepared, share the gospel! If not, bide your time and pray that the Holy Spirit would begin to convict them of their sin and convince them of their need for a Savior.
Kelly Master’s is Downline’s Chief Administrator