Prepare the Way of The Lord!
There are three signs this morning that tell me it’s the second Sunday in Advent. Two candles burning on the Advent wreath. John the Baptizer emerges from the wilderness to preach a baptism of repentance. And the congregation started the service by singing On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s Cry. It just isn’t Advent without that song.
On Jordan’s Banks the Baptist’s cry,
Announces that the Lord is nigh.
Awake and hearken for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of kings.”
The accent on this Advent Sunday is on John the Baptizer.
John is an odd character in Scripture. He was conceived by an elderly couple - Zechariah and Elizabeth - will beyond their childbearing years. The angel Gabriel said to Zechariah, “Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John.” Some believe that his parents died when he was rather young and he was raised in the wilderness by the Essenes, a group who were watching and waiting for the Messiah. That certainly fits John, a rough, untamed man of the wilderness, an Old Testament type of prophet.
John was a bridge between the old and the new. He came in the way of Elijah, dressed like Elijah. He was mentioned by the prophet Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets through whom God said, “See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.” He was the Voice spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.’” John stood in between the old and the new, between prophesy and its fulfillment. He was sent for one purpose: to prepare the way of the Lord, to make straight the path for the Messiah.
Matthew and Mark describe what John looked like - clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt. They tell us what he ate - locusts and wild honey. But Luke tells us when John appeared. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod the tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and Traconituis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Ablilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas.” You can’t get more specific than that. We would say the year AD 25-26, but Luke didn’t have the luxury of a universal calendar.
Luke is writing history. This isn’t some sort of religious legend. This isn’t something that just happened, “long, long time ago in a land far, far away.” This happened in time, 1,984 years ago. It happened in a place, in the wilderness east of the Jordan River. This is not a fairy tale or a “timeless myth.” This is historic fact, as historic as Caesar Augustus, Napoleon or George Washington. It’s anchored in the history of the Roman Empire and the priesthood of Israel. It happened at just the right time in history, when the fullness of time had come, when history was ripe with the Promise of God. The Word of God came to John.
In history, facts matter. That’s why history can be rather dull at times. It’s about persons, places and things. It about dates, lots of dates. At seminary I learned that God’s fingerprints were all over human history. God works in, with, and under human history. History is important because God the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in time and space. God participates in history. God makes history happen. Jesus Christ, whom we worship as Savior and Lord, is the Lord of all history, and He is Himself the hinge and pivot point in human history. History has never been the same since the Son of God took on human flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the dead.
Of all the fields of study, history is perhaps the most endangered in our day. History is now an opinion, some point of view, a kind soft fact that can be bent to suit the moment. People now read between the lines of history rather than actual history. And the historic lines are now discounted as unreliable. Case in point: the DaVinci Code. It was a best seller for the better part of the year and was later turned into a block buster movie, but its all speculation and fabrication, written as fiction but treated as fact.
What’s the source for all this speculative “history”? The answer: Second and third century Gnostic writings, material was written two hundred years after the fact by people with the sole purpose discrediting orthodox Christianity. And what evidence do these so-called scholars of history ignore? The New Testament! The first century eye-witness accounts of the very people who had been with Jesus. They are interpreting the New Testament through 2nd and 3rd century documents written by people who were trying to destroy Christianity. And they even made up a history to justify themselves, saying that these documents were suppressed by “those in power.”
It’s like putting books about the Civil War written last year ahead of the memoirs, letters, and eyewitness accounts of the people who were actually there and smelled the gunpowder and saying, “Those people suppressed the real story.” That just isn’t historical research.
I hope you understand the danger of what’s going on in our society. History has been hijacked by myth makers. Facts of history are being denied, and revisionism is being passed off as the real thing. And when history is attacked, the Christian faith is under attack, because Christianity is the only faith that is based on historic fact. Buddhism couldn’t care less if the Buddha never even existed. It doesn’t matter. Judaism bears no resemblance to the historic religion of the Old Testament. Islam has no history to support the claims of Mohammed. But Christianity stands on the historic death and resurrection of the incarnate Son of God.
The attack on history is really an attack on the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It’s man’s attempt to overthrow God and become his own lord of history. That’s what the old Adam wants. He wants not only to control his future; but also to rewrite his past. The old Adam is a skilled revisionist, always trying to justify his present by rewriting the past. And if he can push God out to the margins of history, and turn God into a spirit myth, so much the better. I can’t think of a greater tool in the hands of the devil in these end times than to have history became as bendable as silly putty.
For Luke, history is the raw material of salvation. It’s the canvass on which God painted the redemption of the world in Christ Jesus. In the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, a wild man appeared in the Jordan wilderness, John the son of Zechariah. John came preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This was entirely new and unheard of thing. The wilderness communities, like the one in which John grew up, had ceremonial washings, and maybe those lay the background for baptism. But baptism, a washing with water, that someone else did to you, that wasn’t heard of. And that’s why John was called the Baptizer.
John’s baptism already anticipated Jesus and His greater baptism. John’s was a baptism of repentance, a turning from sin to righteousness, a change of mind, and a new way of thinking. Forgiveness of sins was coming available in an entirely new form. OT Israel knew forgiveness through the ritual offering of blood. John moved Israel in a new direction, connecting baptism to the blood. The time was near, Messiah was on His way.
John was the voice calling out in the wilderness. The wilderness was where God had made His Israel. John was calling Israel back to the wilderness, the place of its origins, to be reborn. It was time for repentance, a change of thinking. God was about to do something new, and the people had to be prepared. The King was coming and the roads had to be repaired and paved. The low places filled in, the high places made low, the crooked places made straight, the rough places made smooth.
John was God’s bulldozer, leveling the soil of Israel, cutting a straight path to the religious heart. It didn’t matter whether you were a prophet, a priest, a king, or simply a law-abiding peasant. You needed to repent and be baptized. John didn’t care who you were and where you came from. What he said applied to everyone without exception. “All flesh, every human being without exception, will see the salvation of God.” Everyone needed to become entirely new, because God’s new creation in Christ was coming. The old wineskins of the old religion couldn’t handle this new vintage.
This all actually happened 1,984 years ago in the Jordan wilderness. Just as Jesus Christ actually suffered, died, and rose again from the dead 1,981 years ago. This is not a matter of faith. It’s simply a matter of historic fact. It’s true whether you believe it or not. It’s also a matter of fact that Jesus’ death is the atoning sacrifice for all sin and for every sinner, and that His resurrection from the dead is the first fruits of all the dead. “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive.” The matter of faith is that Jesus Christ died and rose for you personally, for your sins, for your death. It’s a matter of faith that His death is your death and your life is, at this very moment, hidden in Christ. That you must believe, you must trust and take God at His Word. But the fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection is a much a historic fact as John preaching in the wilderness.
Faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His death and resurrection, comes by hearing the Word of Jesus Christ preached out of mouths and into ears. That’s what John was doing, preaching - preaching repentance and baptism for the remission of sin. The Church is John the Baptizer for these last days. The next time the Lord appears, it will be in glory to deliver salvation.
Before Jesus disappeared in a cloud, He ordered His disciples, “Go, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them and teaching them.” Baptizing and teaching is what John was did and we also must do, to prepare a world to meet its Messiah. We’re preparing a world for the appearing of Jesus, who will come to judge the living and the dead. We’re calling people to repent, to change their thinking about God and about themselves and about religion, to acknowledge their own sinfulness and to receive the forgiveness that Jesus Christ alone has won by His death.
You and I are that voice, calling out in the wilderness. “Get ready. Prepare the way for the Lord.” Hear the Word of Christ. Repent and be baptized. To the world, we may as well be wearing camel’s hair and leather and eating honey coated grasshoppers. We’ll be looked on as weird, strange, quirky, fanatical, out of touch with the culture. The religious assessment of John in the end was, “He hath a demon.” Never mind all that. Christ is coming!
You know the truth, my dear friends in Christ. There is only One in all of human history who died and rose from the dead never to die again. There’s only One in all of the history to have the authority to claim to be the Son of God and had the evidence to back it up. There’s one One who is the eternal Word made Flesh, who baptizes you into His death, who gives you His body to eat and His blood to drink, who takes away all of your sins and gives you eternal life entirely as gift without your so much as lifting finger. There’s only One who redeems human history, and your own personal history, by His own bloody death.
Dear children of God in Christ, those who have been named and claimed by the Son of God, baptized into His death and life, you are that voice calling in the wilderness, to friends, to family, to coworkers, to neighbor. God is at work through you, His royal priesthood, in your time and in your place, working now in history, to prepare the world for the second appearing of Jesus. “All flesh will see the salvation of God.” The news is too good to keep to ourselves. The Lord is near. Repent and be baptized. Prepare the way! For our Lord is coming soon and He’s coming for you! In Jesus name, Amen and Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus, amen.