Prepare The Way Of The Lord
December 4, 2005
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
1. We're in December. When we say December, it is Christmas. Christmas is the holiday for celebrating the fact that Christ came into the world. It is the important time when we muse over the meaning of Christ's coming. With such [musing in mind], I would like for us to celebrate Christmas in an appropriate way. Now then, when we read the Gospel According To Mark, before Christ appears, the character John the Baptizer comes on the scene. He is the forerunner of Christ. Before Christ we have to meet with John the Baptizer. That said, [we] read the scripture passage about John the Baptizer on [this] second Sunday of Advent season before we celebrate Christmas. In order to celebrate Christmas right, we must listen hard to the message being given in this text.
2. The following explanation is given with regard to John the Baptizer's appearance in the story. "Thus, it is written in the prophet Isaiah. 'Behold, I will send ahead of you a messenger, and have him prepare the way for you. There will be a voice of one crying out in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.' As [Isaiah] said [he would], John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness and proclaimed the baptism of repentance that one might obtain the forgiveness of sins," (verses two through four).
3. Who is this John the Baptizer? The Bible says that he is sent by God earlier than the Christ. For what purpose was he sent? John was sent as the exclaimer, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." In other words, before Christ comes, the people will have to hear this voice of his, [saying], "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." -- We too must hear the voice that cries out that way first. Today, I would like for us to incline our ears to that voice and to consider two points. First, what does "the way of the Lord" mean? And second, what does it mean by "prepare" the way of the Lord?
The Way Through Which The Lord Will Pass
4. What does "the way of the Lord" mean? In order to consider this point, let's open to the book of Isaiah, which is the basis for the quotation. It was the first scripture recitation done out loud today. A few words are different, but we see right away that Isaiah chapter forty and verse three is its base. The text says, "There is a voice calling out. Prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord, and make a wide road pass through the desert for our God," (Isaiah 40:3).
5. It is so that the Lord can pass through that [they are to] "prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord." So, where is the Lord going? In fact, the Lord's destination is Zion, that is, Jerusalem.
6. I think we could probably use a little more background explanation on this. At this time in Jerusalem there was a temple that had been demolished and burned up; for, in the sixth century B.C.E. Jerusalem together with the temple had been demolished and set to ruins by the Babylonian army. Why did Jerusalem, which was called the city of God, become a rubble of ruins? It [happened], of course, through its defeat in war. However, the prophets never saw that happening as mere defeat in war. They saw it as the judgment of God. They saw the truth, that the glory of God fully left the city of God because of human sin.
7. But, the Lord God did not abandon Jerusalem, [though] it had become ruins. "Speak to Jerusalem's heart, call out to her, 'The time of drudgery is now full, her sins are made up for.'," (verse two). The Lord told that to the prophet. The time of drudgery is over. The Lord will come back again to the capitol city which had become ruins, to the temple which had been demolished. Therefore, [the Bible] says, "Prepare a way in the wilderness for the Lord, and make a wide road pass through the desert for our God." In this manner then, "the way of the Lord, the road for the Lord," of which the prophet is speaking, means the way for God to come [back on] in the miserable world which has been caused by their sins.
8. It is very important here that [the Bible] just doesn't say their suffering is gone and life is back to normal. Perhaps some were only thinking they'd be happy if the demolished capitol turned back the way it was. They were only thinking if [the city's] former prosperity returned back that would be so good. Even today [we think] like that. When something has been destroyed, we would be so happy if it could just go back to the way it was. We're happy when something that's lost is returned. The people who think just like that are not a few. But, the prophet did not say that. It's no good just for the form [of things] to go back to the way it was. The main thing is God is coming. That is where true salvation is. Therefore, "the way of the Lord" is majorly important.
9. So, after the prophet spoke, what became of Jerusalem? As a matter of fact, the city was made over again. The temple in Jerusalem was re-built. Services at the temple were re-opened. In a certain sense, the words of the prophecy could be said to have been fulfilled. It could be said that the glory of the Lord did come back to Jerusalem.
10. But, the temple which must truly be re-built was actually not that temple in Jerusalem. Does the temple in Jerusalem exist today? No, it does not remain. That temple was certainly re-done. In the time of Herod it was made into something so great with splendor galore. But, that temple was destroyed by the Roman army in the year A.D. 70. Therefore, it no longer remains today. What truly must be re-built is not the temple at Jerusalem, but the temple called "human being." Later on, Paul said it like this, "Don't you know? Your bodies are temples in which the Holy Spirit dwells, which you have received from God, and you no longer belong to yourselves. You were bought with a price. Therefore, display the glory of God with your bodies," (First Corinthians 6:19-20). The critically important thing is really and truly this: that the temple called "human being" is re-built, that God comes there, that the Spirit of God comes.
11. And for that very reason Jesus Christ did come. John the Baptizer spoke as the one sent before Christ and pointed to him saying, "The one who is greater than me will come after me. I am not worthy to even bow down and loosen the strings of his footwear. I have conferred upon you a baptism with water, but he will confer upon you a baptism with the Holy Spirit," (verses seven and eight).
12. "The baptism of the Holy Spirit" -- This phrase has often been connected to particular experiences and particular understandings. Of course, it is not necessary to deny [these] varied experiences as works of the Holy Spirit. But, even more than these special experiences [important as they are] in and of themselves, the main thing is that the Spirit of God is here, the Holy Spirit indwells, the rule of the Holy Spirit starts in us, we are being used for the glory of God.
13. I return to the first question. What does "the way of the Lord" mean? It is the way for the Lord God to come. For us, it is the way for Jesus Christ to come into our lives, and it is the way for the Holy Spirit to come to us through Him. Our salvation can be found right in that very place where He has come to be and where we are re-built as the true temple.
Prepare The Way Of The Lord
14. So then, how do we prepare the way for the Lord? What does it mean by "prepare" the way of the Lord?
15. In verse four the text says this: "John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness and proclaimed the baptism of repentance in order to obtain forgiveness of sins," (verse four). This was actually what the one crying out, "Prepare the way of the Lord!," did. In addition, as an effect of when John proclaimed the baptism of repentance in the way that he did, the scripture says that "the entire region of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem came to John, confessed their sins, and received baptism from him at the River Jordan," (verse five). This is what it meant by "prepare" the way of the Lord.
16. The scripture says "the baptism of repentance." Yet, baptism itself is not something John came up with. At first glance, the closest thing to it is the bathing stipulated in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, (Lev. 15:13). But, as long as we are reading this text, it seems essentially different from bathing because the baptism he proclaimed is a one time decisive act that he connected to repentance. We should instead think of the baptism of John more akin to the baptism of a convert. The baptism of a convert means the baptism a person who is not Jewish would receive when converted to Judaism.
17. As we think about this, we come to see how that when John began in the wilderness it was a truly astonishing act in Jewish society. I say that because to begin with, the baptism of a convert used to mean that the Gentile who didn't know God was having the stains of his or her sins up to that point washed away and he or she was being born again as a Jew or Jewess. But now, John was applying a baptism that resembled [the Gentile] one onto the Jews. We can easily imagine how difficult it was for strict Jews to accept this.
18. In The Gospel According To Mark it is written that "The entire region of Judea and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem came to John," but in reality, most likely not "all" came. Most likely, there were a lot who didn't come to him. In fact, in this gospel account in chapter eleven, we find in the text that the chief priests, the scribes of the law, and the elders do not come to John. Why did they not accept the message of John? Because they didn't think that they themselves were sinners who needed to be forgiven, or that they were like the Gentiles, sinners who must be washed of their sin stains. To get to the heart of it, anyone who thought of himself or herself as righteous did not come to John ever. Only the people who admitted their sins and confessed "I am a sinner" would then receive the baptism of repentance.
19. "Repentance" is defined as changing one's direction. It is to turn to God. When it came to changing one's direction, you would never admit that your direction was wrong and so you never could change it. I think in Jewish society back then, the public was forced to live a hard life, except for the nobility and the privileged classes. Many must have sought for deliverance. The people only groaned and cursed the misery of their lives and their painful worlds and did not repent. The person, who thinks "All persons beside me bear [their] suffering on [their own] backs because of [their] evil," will refuse to change directions. I think so. Some people might claim that the world around them is evil, society is evil, the times are evil, the environment around them is evil, their parents are evil, their spouse is evil, and they make everyone else responsible for everything, and to top it all off they will even make God out to be a bad guy, [and so this type of] person will refuse to repent and change [his or her] direction.
20. But, the exact opposite was true, and there had been some people who had realized this: After hearing John's message, it wasn't someone else's, but it was my own way of living itself that was deviant, and it was my relationship with God that was deviant. There had been some people who had realized that the direction of their lives was deviant and they were the sinful person in need of forgiveness. Then, only the people like this had flung off both their pride as Jews and the fences between them and those around them, and having come to John they had received baptism. This repentance of theirs was none other than "preparing the way of the Lord and making his paths straight."
21. A person needs to meet John the Baptist before Christ. On the second week of Advent, we are hearing the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight." We must hold on fast to this message in order to celebrate Christmas correctly. We ought to visualize the countless figures of the people who had begun to live at the Jordan by confessing their sins, repenting, and changing directions. And so, I think we should put ourselves right there, too. The call for us to repent is a message that we must hear first at this stage [in Advent].