Prepare ye the way of the Lord
For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet [Isaiah], saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.
Matthew 3:3 (KJV)
Those of us who are of a ‘certain age’ will remember Stephen Schwartz’s 1970s rock opera Godspell, primarily based on the gospel of Matthew. Early in the musical, the actor who plays John the Baptist sings a song with the same title as this study: Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord. The words, of course, are not Stephen Schwartz’s, or Matthew’s, or John the Baptist’s but a direct quote from Isaiah 40:3.
But what does this phrase mean, exactly? As Claus Westermann explains in his commentary on Isaiah, the idea was taken from the practice of ancient Babylonian kings, who commanded their servants to level hills and build causeways across valleys in order to construct what he calls a ‘triumphal highway’ for the royal entourage.
By quoting these words of Isaiah, John the Baptist was urging the people of his day to hasten the arrival of their Messiah, doing everything possible for Jesus to get here as quickly as possible. How? By confessing their sins, repenting and being baptised (Matthew 3:1-6).
Yet some, like the Sadducees and Pharisees, were doing the exact opposite, hindering the arrival of our Lord. John the Baptist called them a ‘brood of vipers’ (v.7 NIV), then warned them to prove, by the way they lived, that they had truly repented of their sins.
Today we are waiting not for the first coming of the Christ, but his second. And John’s cry is every bit as relevant to us now. Are we helping to build the triumphal highway of our King of kings by being salt and light in this world? Or are we, like the religious authorities of John’s day, hindering his coming by being complacent and self-righteous?
John the Baptist’s warning in verse 10 is a stark one and we would do well to heed it: ‘The axe has been laid to the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.’ (Matthew 3:10 NIVUK).
Loving Father, thank you for sending the Messiah to reconcile humankind to yourself. And thank you also for your sure and certain promise of his return to usher in your eternal kingdom. Help us to do everything we can by being citizens of that kingdom every day, helping and not hindering his triumphal return. Amen.
Study by Peter Mill
About the writer:
Peter Mill is a minister in Grace Communion International and Regional Pastor for Scotland, Ireland and Northern England
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