In Isaiah 40:3 a voice cries out: “In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” The verse relates directly to two separate themes and eras:
1 It relates immediately to the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon and into Judea for the road from Babylon to Judea was indeed through a great wilderness.
2 But it relates principally to the redemption of the Jewish race by the Messiah, whose coming was to be ushered in by the calls of John the Baptist from the wilderness, some 700 years later.
The Gospel of Mark starts with this link back to the past, for “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” In this, the time honoured custom of princes and royalty is being fulfilled as emissaries and pioneers are sent ahead to prepare the way through the lands which he is to pass. God, in this case, is preparing His people for the coming of His Son Jesus; that hearts and minds will be may prepared and made ready and receptive.
Mark starts with the “Good News” the “Gospel” that the Lord, the Messiah is coming. But he is not asking for preparation for the Gospel, but repentance for the Gospel.
The borders of our personal pathway into the desert are bounded by the ministries of Prayer and Worship from a humbled heart on one side, and on the other, service from a humbled heart. If we wander off and out past these boundaries, we have left the pathway behind us and are walking in the world and in the flesh. The Lord has clear ideas as to how the pathway boundaries are to be defined. We are reminded in Proverbs 12:28 that “the path of righteousness is life, and in its pathway there is no death” and Isaiah 57:15 tells us how to walk the path, “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: “I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.”
Second Chronicles 7:14 further clarifies the life we need to lead on this pathway toward Him, saying “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” The simple test here for us is to look at our lives and our land with honesty and see if there is healing or continued suffering. If we are lacking, we are off the pathway.
Are we worshiping God and living up to the words of Jesus in Matthew 22:37 where “Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ “? Are we praying in accordance with First Timothy 5:17 “without ceasing”, or as in 2:8 “lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” ?
As we walk this path, let us be reminded of the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who attended his baptisms “O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance; and do not think to say within yourselves, we have Abraham as our father. For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And now also, the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.”
John’s words echo true for us down all these centuries since he spoke them: that the fruits of His creation are also the fruits of repentance.
Micah clearly defines for us the other boundary of the pathway; in colloquial terms it is to “walk the walk” not just “talk the talk”. Micah 6:7-9 asks us simply: “Will Jehovah be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does Jehovah require of you but to do justice and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God? Jehovah’s voice cries to the city, and in sound wisdom one will see Your name. Hear the rod and Him who has appointed it.”
What is the Lord asking us to do as we travel this path? He is quite clear and very specific in Mark 25:41 onward:
“Then He also shall say to those on the left hand, depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in; I was naked, and you did not clothe Me; I was sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.
Then they will also answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to You? Then He shall answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life.”
Jesus is longing for us to pray for each other and serve each other as He has prayed for and served us. He wants us to treat each other the way He treats us.
How do we start? Matthew 3:2 tells us: “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
Amen and Amen