The Smooth Path
1In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, 2during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3And he went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4As 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. 5Every 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, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”
Luke now takes up the rather brief ministry of John the Baptist. We have learned of his miraculous beginning and we get to see why God made provision for his birth in the first place. He has come to close out the Old Testament prophetic cycle and usher in the “Last Days” as will be introduced by the Messiah. John’s prophetic call places him in the old covenant, but the content of his preaching places him in the new.
John’s ministry is situated on the shores of the Jordan River in the same general area where the children of Israel crossed over into the Promised Land. There he is openly declaring the coming Kingdom of God and calling for God’s people to repent. It is a simple yet profound message and perhaps one that we could allow to course through our own hearts on a daily basis; repent and return to the Lord. In his message, John quotes his forerunner, Isaiah. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight.” This is strictly a call of preparation for the coming of the Promised One. John’s baptism is not the same as the baptism we find in the book of Acts, for the Holy Spirit is not working salvation through John’s baptism.
John’s baptism was not “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 2:38: 8:16; 10:48; 19:5; cf. 8:12; 22:16) nor in the name of the Trinity (Matthew 28:19). Therefore, John’s baptism did not initiate people into Jesus, the Trinity, or God’s kingdom. It was preparatory. Yet the text states that it had the power to bring those baptized “to the forgiveness of sins,” and that forgiveness comes from Jesus. This bath of repentance cleansed those baptized so that when holiness would arrive in the person of Jesus, they would be prepared to meet him.
Just, A. A., Jr. ©1996. Luke 1:1–9:50 (p. 150). St. Louis, MO: CPH.
The rest of the Isaiah quote is also instructive and challenging.
5Every 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, 6and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
When the conquering kings would return from war, there were soldiers and slaves who would run ahead of the king to clear the road, literally filling low spots and tearing down hills. The king’s trip home would be smooth and easy. John demands the same treatment for the coming King of Kings. Our hearts are to be prepared for what is to come in the spiritual sense. The hindrances to God’s work in our lives need to be cast aside and the road smoothed out. I say these words at the risk of being misunderstood and I’ll accept that responsibility. The act of justification is God’s work and I do not need to “clean up my act” in order for Him to draw me into His Kingdom. But, while living inside of the faith, I am certainly capable of throwing my sinful ideas in His path and creating my own stumbling blocks. The work of sanctification requires some of my cooperation. My pet sins can stand directly in God’s chosen path. I can either continue to entertain those sins, or I can let God cast them aside, thus smoothing the path before Him. We work in concert on that, I think. God does the actual heavy lifting and I stand out of the way of His work in my life. Only through the blood of Jesus is any of this possible.